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Comparative Effectiveness Research Using Observational Data: Active Comparators to Emulate Target Trials with Inactive Comparators

Authors:

Anders Huitfeldt ,

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
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Miguel A. Hernan,

Harvard University
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Mette Kalager,

University of Oslo
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James M. Robins

Harvard School of Public Health
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Abstract

Introduction: Because a comparison of non-initiators and initiators of treatment may be hopelessly confounded, guidelines for the conduct of observational research often recommend using an “active” comparator group consisting of people who initiate a treatment other than the medication of interest. In this paper, we discuss the conditions under which this approach is valid if the goal is to emulate a trial with an inactive comparator.

Identification of Effects: We provide conditions under which a target trial in a subpopulation can be validly emulated from observational data, using an active comparator that is known or believed to be inactive for the outcome of interest. The average treatment effect in the population as a whole is not identified, but under certain conditions this approach can be used to emulate a trial either in the subset of individuals who were treated with the treatment of interest, in the subset of individuals who were treated with the treatment of interest but not with the comparator, or in the subset of individuals who were treated with both the treatment of interest and the active comparator.

The Plausibility of the Comparability Conditions: We discuss whether the required conditions can be expected to hold in pharmacoepidemiologic research, with a particular focus on whether the conditions are plausible in situations where the standard analysis fails due to unmeasured confounding by access to health care or health seeking behaviors.

Discussion: The conditions discussed in this paper may at best be approximately true. Investigators using active comparator designs to emulate trials with inactive comparators should exercise caution.

How to Cite: Huitfeldt A, Hernan MA, Kalager M, Robins JM. Comparative Effectiveness Research Using Observational Data: Active Comparators to Emulate Target Trials with Inactive Comparators. eGEMs (Generating Evidence & Methods to improve patient outcomes). 2016;4(1):20. DOI: http://doi.org/10.13063/2327-9214.1234
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Published on 14 Oct 2016.
Peer Reviewed

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