Randomized trials are important for generating high‐quality evidence, but are perceived as difficult to perform in the pediatric population. Thus far there has been poor characterization of the barriers to conducting trials involving children, and the variation in these barriers between countries remains undescribed. The General Anesthesia compared to Spinal anesthesia (GAS) trial, conducted in seven countries between 2007 and 2013, provides an opportunity to explore these issues.

We undertook a descriptive analysis to evaluate the reasons for variation in enrollment between countries in the GAS trial, looking specifically at the number of potential subjects screened, and the subsequent application of four exclusion criteria that were applied in a hierarchical order.

A total of 4023 patients were screened by 28 centers in seven countries. Australia and the USA screened the most subjects, accounting for 84% of all potential trial participants. The percentage of subjects eliminated from the screened pool by each exclusion criterion varied between countries. Exclusion due to a predefined condition (H1) eliminated only 5% of potential subjects in Italy and the UK, but 37% in Canada. Exclusions due to a contraindication or a physician's refusal most impacted enrollment in Australia and the USA. The patient being “too large for spinal anesthesia” was the most commonly cited by anesthetists who refused to enroll a patient (64% of anesthetist refusals). The majority of surgeon refusals came from the USA, where surgeons preferred the patient to receive a general anesthetic. The percentage of approached parents refusing to consent ranged from a low of 3% in Italy to a high of 70% in the USA and Netherlands. The most frequently cited reason for parent refusal in all countries was a preference for general anesthesia (median: 43%, range: 32%‐67%). However, a sizeable proportion of parents in all countries had a contrasting preference for spinal anesthesia (median: 25%, range: 13%‐31%), and 23% of U.S. parents expressed concern about randomization.

The GAS trial highlights enrollment challenges that can occur when conducting multicenter, international, pediatric studies. Investigators planning future trials should be aware of potential differences in screening processes across countries, and that exclusions by anesthetists and surgeons may vary in reason, in frequency, and by country. Furthermore, investigators should be aware that the U.S. centers encountered particularly high surgeon and parental refusal rates and that U.S. parents were uniquely concerned about randomization. Planning trials that address these difficulties should increase the likelihood of successfully recruiting subjects in pediatric trials.

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Contributor The GAS Trial Consortium
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Journal Paediatric Anaesthesia
Gentry, Katherine R., Arnup, SJ, Disma, N, Dorris, L, de Graaff, J.C., Hunyady, A., … Lynn, A.M. (2018). Enrollment challenges in multicenter, international studies. Paediatric Anaesthesia, 29(1), 51–58. doi:10.1111/pan.13522