A cluster randomized controlled trial comparing Virtual Learning Collaborative and Technical Assistance strategies to implement an early palliative care program for patients with advanced cancer and their caregivers: a study protocol

Academic Article


  • Background: Virtual Learning Collaboratives (VLC), learning communities focused on a common purpose, are used frequently in healthcare settings to implement best practices. Yet, there is limited research testing the effectiveness of this approach compared to other implementation strategies. This study evaluates the effectiveness of a VLC compared to Technical Assistance (TA) among community oncology practices implementing ENABLE (Educate, Nurture, Advise, Before Life Ends), an evidence-based, early palliative care telehealth, psycho-educational intervention for patients with newly diagnosed advanced cancer and their caregivers. Methods: Using Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, Maintenance (RE-AIM) and Proctor’s Implementation Outcomes Frameworks, this two-arm hybrid type-III cluster-randomized controlled trial (RCT) will compare two implementation strategies, VLC versus TA, among the 48 National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) practice clusters that have not historically provided palliative care to all patients with advanced cancer. Three cohorts of practice clusters will be randomized to the study arms. Each practice cluster will recruit 15–27 patients and a family caregiver to participate in ENABLE. The primary study outcome is ENABLE uptake (patient level), i.e., the proportion of eligible patients who complete the ENABLE program (receive a palliative care assessment and complete the six ENABLE sessions over 12 weeks). The secondary outcome is overall program implementation (practice cluster level), as measured by the General Organizational Index at baseline, 6, and 12 months. Exploratory aims assess patient and caregiver mood and quality of life outcomes at baseline, 12, and 24 weeks. Practice cluster randomization will seek to keep the proportion of rural practices, practice sizes, and minority patients seen within each practice balanced across the two study arms. Discussion: This study will advance the field of implementation science by evaluating VLC effectiveness, a commonly used but understudied, implementation strategy. The study will advance the field of palliative care by building the capacity and infrastructure to implement an early palliative care program in community oncology practices. Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov. NCT04062552; Pre-results. Registered: August 20, 2019. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04062552?term=NCT04062552&draw=2&rank=1
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Zubkoff L; Lyons KD; Dionne-Odom JN; Hagley G; Pisu M; Azuero A; Flannery M; Taylor R; Carpenter-Song E; Mohile S
  • Volume

  • 16
  • Issue

  • 1