Planning for Long-Term Follow-Up: Strategies Learned from Longitudinal Studies
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Preventive interventions are often designed and tested with the immediate program period in mind, and little thought that the intervention sample might be followed up for years or even decades beyond the initial trial. However, depending on the type of intervention and the nature of the outcomes, long-term follow-up may well be appropriate. The advantages of long-term follow-up of preventive interventions are discussed and include the capacity to examine program effects across multiple later life outcomes, the ability to examine the etiological processes involved in the development of the outcomes of interest, and the ability to provide more concrete estimates of the relative benefits and costs of an intervention. In addition, researchers have identified potential methodological risks of long-term follow-up such as inflation of type 1 error through post hoc selection of outcomes, selection bias, and problems stemming from attrition over time. The present paper presents a set of seven recommendations for the design or evaluation of studies for potential long-term follow-up organized under four areas: Intervention Logic Model, Developmental Theory and Measurement Issues; Design for Retention; Dealing with Missing Data; and Unique Considerations for Intervention Studies. These recommendations include conceptual considerations in the design of a study, pragmatic concerns in the design and implementation of the data collection for long-term follow-up, as well as criteria to be considered for the evaluation of an existing intervention for potential for long-term follow-up. Concrete examples from existing intervention studies that have been followed up over the long term are provided.
KeywordsIntervention Assessment design Longitudinal Follow-up Retention Developmental
This project was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA; R01DA009679, R01DA024411-05-07) and grant 21548 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors. The authors gratefully acknowledge our study participants for their continued contribution to the longitudinal studies. They also acknowledge the SDRG Survey Research Division for their hard work in maintaining high panel retention. Earlier versions of this manuscript were presented at an expert panel meeting on “Impact of Early Interventions on Trajectories of Violence” in October of 2010 organized by CDC as well as at the Society for Prevention Research meeting in 2011. The paper has been expanded to consider long-term follow-up of preventive interventions in general.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Formal ethics review is not applicable for this theoretical/methodological paper; however, the work is consistent with COPE guidelines.
Informed consent is not applicable for this work.
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