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Stat Med. 2005 May 15;24(9):1307-19.

Investigating heterogeneity in an individual patient data meta-analysis of time to event outcomes.

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Centre for Medical Statistics and Health Evaluation, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, UK.


Differences across studies in terms of design features and methodology, clinical procedures, and patient characteristics, are factors that can contribute to variability in the treatment effect between studies in a meta-analysis (statistical heterogeneity). Regression modelling can be used to examine relationships between treatment effect and covariates with the aim of explaining the variability in terms of clinical, methodological, or other factors. Such an investigation can be undertaken using aggregate data or individual patient data. An aggregate data approach can be problematic as sufficient data are rarely available and translating aggregate effects to individual patients can often be misleading. An individual patient data approach, although usually more resource demanding, allows a more thorough investigation of potential sources of heterogeneity and enables a fuller analysis of time to event outcomes in meta-analysis. Hierarchical Cox regression models are used to identify and explore the evidence for heterogeneity in meta-analysis and examine the relationship between covariates and censored failure time data in this context. Alternative formulations of the model are possible and illustrated using individual patient data from a meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials which compare two drugs for the treatment of epilepsy. The models are further applied to simulated data examples in which the degree of heterogeneity and magnitude of treatment effect are varied. The behaviour of each model in each situation is explored and compared.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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