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BMC Med Res Methodol. 2010 Jun 7;10:49. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-10-49.

Testing for heterogeneity among the components of a binary composite outcome in a clinical trial.

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



Investigators designing clinical trials often use composite outcomes to overcome many statistical issues. Trialists want to maximize power to show a statistically significant treatment effect and avoid inflation of Type I error rate due to evaluation of multiple individual clinical outcomes. However, if the treatment effect is not similar among the components of this composite outcome, we are left not knowing how to interpret the treatment effect on the composite itself. Given significant heterogeneity among these components, a composite outcome may be judged as being invalid or un-interpretable for estimation of the treatment effect. This paper compares the power of different tests to detect heterogeneity of treatment effect across components of a composite binary outcome.


Simulations were done comparing four different models commonly used to analyze correlated binary data. These models included: logistic regression for ignoring correlation, logistic regression weighted by the intra cluster correlation coefficient, population average logistic regression using generalized estimating equations (GEE), and random effects logistic regression.


We found that the population average model based on generalized estimating equations (GEE) had the greatest power across most scenarios. Adequate power to detect possible composite heterogeneity or variation between treatment effects of individual components of a composite outcome was seen when the power for detecting the main study treatment effect for the composite outcome was also reasonably high.


It is recommended that authors report tests of composite heterogeneity for composite outcomes and that this accompany the publication of the statistically significant results of the main effect on the composite along with individual components of composite outcomes.

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