N-of-1 trials offer an innovative approach to delivering personalized clinical care together with population-level research. While increasingly used, these methods have raised some statistical concerns in the healthcare community. Methods:
We discuss concerns of selection bias, carryover effects from treatment, and trial data analysis conceptually, then rigorously evaluate concerns of effect sizes, power, and sample size through simulation study. Four variance structures for patient heterogeneity and model error are considered in a series of 5000 simulated trials with three cycles, which compare N-of-1 trials to parallel randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and crossover trials. Results:
N-of-1 trials outperformed both traditional parallel RCTs and crossover designs when trial designs were simulated in terms of power and required sample size to obtain a given power. N-of-1 designs resulted in a higher type-I error probability than parallel RCT and cross over designs when moderate-to-strong carryover or washout effects were not considered or in the presence of modeled selection bias. However, N-of-1 designs allowed better estimation of patient-level random effects. These results reinforce the need to account for these factors when planning N-of-1 trials. Conclusion:
N-of-1 trial designs offer a rigorous method for advancing personalized medicine and healthcare with the potential to minimize costs and resources. Interventions can be tested with adequate power with far fewer patients than traditional RCT and crossover designs. Operating characteristics compare favorably to both traditional RCT and crossover designs.
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