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Ann Thorac Surg. 2008 Apr;85(4):1256-60. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2007.12.013.

Using the National Death Index to validate the noninformative censoring assumption of survival estimation.

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Medical Data Research Center, Providence Health System, Portland, Oregon, USA.



In survival analysis, a patient who is missing complete follow-up is included in the analysis as a censored observation. The analysis makes the assumption that the censoring is noninformative; that is, that a censored patient has the same risk of death as those who have complete follow-up. We tested this assumption in a large, long-term follow-up study.


From 1986 through 2003, 14,495 patients underwent isolated coronary artery bypass grafting procedures. Of 13,963 eligible patients, 2312 were lost to follow-up. We obtained National Death Index data to complete our follow-up, and then compared survival between the original data and the complete National Death Index-augmented data.


The National Death Index data revealed 855 additional deaths and increased the total follow-up years from 86,810 to 102,157. Survival estimates and regression models did not differ between the original and National Death Index-augmented data.


Patients lost to follow-up might not differ with regard to survival from those with complete data. The requirement for 95% completeness is somewhat arbitrary. The quality and type of follow-up is more important than the percentage in time-related analyses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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