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Miller CJ, Smith SN, Pugatch M. Experimental and quasi-experimental designs in implementation research. Psychiatry Research. 2020 Jan 1; 283.
Implementation science is focused on maximizing the adoption, appropriate use, and sustainability of effective clinical practices in real world clinical settings. Many implementation science questions can be feasibly answered by fully experimental designs, typically in the form of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Implementation-focused RCTs, however, usually differ from traditional efficacy- or effectiveness-oriented RCTs on key parameters. Other implementation science questions are more suited to quasi-experimental designs, which are intended to estimate the effect of an intervention in the absence of randomization. These designs include pre-post designs with a non-equivalent control group, interrupted time series (ITS), and stepped wedges, the last of which require all participants to receive the intervention, but in a staggered fashion. In this article we review the use of experimental designs in implementation science, including recent methodological advances for implementation studies. We also review the use of quasi-experimental designs in implementation science, and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches. This article is therefore meant to be a practical guide for researchers who are interested in selecting the most appropriate study design to answer relevant implementation science questions, and thereby increase the rate at which effective clinical practices are adopted, spread, and sustained.