Efficient design of cluster randomized trials with treatment-dependent costs and treatment-dependent unknown variances

Gerard J P van Breukelen*, Math J J M Candel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cluster randomized trials evaluate the effect of a treatment on persons nested within clusters, where treatment is randomly assigned to clusters. Current equations for the optimal sample size at the cluster and person level assume that the outcome variances and/or the study costs are known and homogeneous between treatment arms. This paper presents efficient yet robust designs for cluster randomized trials with treatment-dependent costs and treatment-dependent unknown variances, and compares these with 2 practical designs. First, the maximin design (MMD) is derived, which maximizes the minimum efficiency (minimizes the maximum sampling variance) of the treatment effect estimator over a range of treatment-to-control variance ratios. The MMD is then compared with the optimal design for homogeneous variances and costs (balanced design), and with that for homogeneous variances and treatment-dependent costs (cost-considered design). The results show that the balanced design is the MMD if the treatment-to control cost ratio is the same at both design levels (cluster, person) and within the range for the treatment-to-control variance ratio. It still is highly efficient and better than the cost-considered design if the cost ratio is within the range for the squared variance ratio. Outside that range, the cost-considered design is better and highly efficient, but it is not the MMD. An example shows sample size calculation for the MMD, and the computer code (SPSS and R) is provided as supplementary material. The MMD is recommended for trial planning if the study costs are treatment-dependent and homogeneity of variances cannot be assumed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3027-3046
Number of pages20
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number21
Early online date10 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2018


  • Journal Article

Cite this