The pragmatic–explanatory continuum indicator summary version 2 (PRECIS-2) tool has recently been developed to classify randomized clinical trials (RCTs) as pragmatic or explanatory based on their design characteristics. Given that treatment effects in explanatory trials may be greater than those obtained in pragmatic trials, conventional meta-analytic approaches may not accurately account for the heterogeneity among the studies and may result in biased treatment effect estimates. This study investigates if the incorporation of PRECIS-2 classification of published trials can improve the estimation of overall intervention effects in meta-analysis.
Using data from 31 published trials of intervention aimed at reducing obesity in children, we evaluated the utility of incorporating PRECIS-2 ratings of published trials into meta-analysis of intervention effects in clinical trials. Specifically, we compared random-effects meta-analysis, stratified meta-analysis, random-effects meta-regression, and mixture random-effects meta-regression methods for estimating overall pooled intervention effects.
Our analyses revealed that mixture meta-regression models that incorporate PRECIS-2 classification as covariate resulted in a larger pooled effect size (ES) estimate (ES = − 1.01, 95%CI = [− 1.52, − 0.43]) than conventional random-effects meta-analysis (ES = − 0.15, 95%CI = [− 0.23, − 0.08]).
In addition to the original intent of PRECIS-2 tool of aiding researchers in their choice of trial design, PRECIS-2 tool is useful for explaining between study variations in systematic review and meta-analysis of published trials. We recommend that researchers adopt mixture meta-regression methods when synthesizing evidence from explanatory and pragmatic trials.