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PLoS One. 2011;6(10):e25635. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0025635. Epub 2011 Oct 10.

Bayesian hierarchical models combining different study types and adjusting for covariate imbalances: a simulation study to assess model performance.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.



Bayesian hierarchical models have been proposed to combine evidence from different types of study designs. However, when combining evidence from randomised and non-randomised controlled studies, imbalances in patient characteristics between study arms may bias the results. The objective of this study was to assess the performance of a proposed Bayesian approach to adjust for imbalances in patient level covariates when combining evidence from both types of study designs.


Simulation techniques, in which the truth is known, were used to generate sets of data for randomised and non-randomised studies. Covariate imbalances between study arms were introduced in the non-randomised studies. The performance of the Bayesian hierarchical model adjusted for imbalances was assessed in terms of bias. The data were also modelled using three other Bayesian approaches for synthesising evidence from randomised and non-randomised studies. The simulations considered six scenarios aimed at assessing the sensitivity of the results to changes in the impact of the imbalances and the relative number and size of studies of each type. For all six scenarios considered, the Bayesian hierarchical model adjusted for differences within studies gave results that were unbiased and closest to the true value compared to the other models.


Where informed health care decision making requires the synthesis of evidence from randomised and non-randomised study designs, the proposed hierarchical Bayesian method adjusted for differences in patient characteristics between study arms may facilitate the optimal use of all available evidence leading to unbiased results compared to unadjusted analyses.

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