Maximising recruitment to a randomised controlled trial for chronic rhinosinusitis using qualitative research methods: the MACRO conversation study

Clare McDermott, Jane Vennik, Carl Philpott, Steffi Le Conte, Mike Thomas, Caroline Eyles, Paul Little, Helen Blackshaw, Anne Schilder, Claire Hopkins

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Background: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the ‘gold standard’ of medical evidence; however, recruitment can be challenging. The MACRO trial is a NIHR-funded RCT for chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) addressing the challenge of comparing surgery, antibiotics and placebo. The embedded MACRO conversation study (MCS) used qualitative research techniques pioneered by the University of Bristol QuinteT team to explore recruitment issues during the pilot phase, to maximise recruitment in the main trial. Methods: Setting: Five outpatient Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) departments recruiting for the pilot phase of the MACRO trial (ISRCTN Number: 36962030, prospectively registered 17 October 2018). We conducted a thematic analysis of telephone interviews with 18 recruiters and 19 patients and 61 audio-recordings of recruitment conversations. We reviewed screening and recruitment data and mapped patient pathways at participating sites. We presented preliminary findings to individual site teams. Group discussions enabled further exploration of issues, evolving strategies and potential solutions. Findings were reported back to the funder and used together with recruitment data to justify progression to the main trial. Results: Recruitment in the MACRO pilot trial began slowly but accelerated in time to progress successfully to the main trial. Research nurse involvement was pivotal to successful recruitment. Engaging the wider network of clinical colleagues emerged as an important factor, ensuring the patient pathway through primary and secondary care did not inadvertently affect trial eligibility. The most common reason for patients declining participation was treatment preference. Good patient-clinician relationships engendered trust and supported patient decision-making. Overall, trial involvement appeared clearly presented by recruiters, possibly influenced by pre-trial training. The weakest area of understanding for patients appeared to be trial medications. A clear presentation of medical and surgical treatment options, together with checking patient understanding, had the potential to allay patient concerns. Conclusion: The MACRO conversation study contributed to the learning process of optimising recruitment by helping to identify and address recruitment issues. Although some issues were trial-specific, others have applicability to many clinical trial situations. Using qualitative research techniques to identify/explore barriers and facilitators to recruitment may be valuable during the pilot phase of many RCTs including those with complex designs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number54
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2021


  • Chronic rhinosinusitis
  • Qualitative research
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • Recruitment
  • Thematic analysis

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