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BMC Med Res Methodol. 2017 Sep 6;17(1):133. doi: 10.1186/s12874-017-0418-1.

Longitudinal studies that use data collected as part of usual care risk reporting biased results: a systematic review.

Author information

University Health Network, University of Toronto, Toronto, M5T 2S8, Canada.
Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, City, ON, M5S 1A8, Canada.
Faculty of Arts & Science, University of Toronto, City, ON, M5S 3G3, Canada.
Child Health Evaluative Sciences, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, M5G 1X8, Canada.
Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, City, ON, M5T 3M7, Canada.



Longitudinal studies using data collected as part of usual care risk providing biased results if visit times are related to the outcome of interest. Statistical methods for mitigating this bias are available but rarely used. This lack of use could be attributed to a lack of need or to a lack of awareness of the issue.


We performed a systematic review of longitudinal studies that used data collected as part of patients' usual care and were published in MEDLINE or EMBASE databases between January 2005 through May 13th 2015. We asked whether the extent of and reasons for variability in visit times were reported on, and in cases where there was a need to account for informativeness of visit times, whether an appropriate method was used.


Of 44 eligible articles, 57% (n = 25) reported on the total follow-up time, 7% (n = 3) on the gaps between visits, and 57% (n = 25) on the number of visits per patient; 78% (n = 34) reported on at least one of these. Two studies assessed predictors of visit times, and 86% of studies did not report enough information to assess whether there was a need to account for informative follow-up. Only one study used a method designed to account for informative visit times.


The low proportion of studies reporting on whether there were important predictors of visit times suggests that researchers are unaware of the potential for bias when data is collected as part of usual care and visit times are irregular. Guidance on the potential for bias and on the reporting of longitudinal studies subject to irregular follow-up is needed.


Administrative data; Bias; Longitudinal data; Statistical methods

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