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Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Feb 1;175(3):210-7. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr302. Epub 2011 Dec 23.

Dealing with missing outcome data in randomized trials and observational studies.

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Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands.


Although missing outcome data are an important problem in randomized trials and observational studies, methods to address this issue can be difficult to apply. Using simulated data, the authors compared 3 methods to handle missing outcome data: 1) complete case analysis; 2) single imputation; and 3) multiple imputation (all 3 with and without covariate adjustment). Simulated scenarios focused on continuous or dichotomous missing outcome data from randomized trials or observational studies. When outcomes were missing at random, single and multiple imputations yielded unbiased estimates after covariate adjustment. Estimates obtained by complete case analysis with covariate adjustment were unbiased as well, with coverage close to 95%. When outcome data were missing not at random, all methods gave biased estimates, but handling missing outcome data by means of 1 of the 3 methods reduced bias compared with a complete case analysis without covariate adjustment. Complete case analysis with covariate adjustment and multiple imputation yield similar estimates in the event of missing outcome data, as long as the same predictors of missingness are included. Hence, complete case analysis with covariate adjustment can and should be used as the analysis of choice more often. Multiple imputation, in addition, can accommodate the missing-not-at-random scenario more flexibly, making it especially suited for sensitivity analyses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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