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A four-step strategy for handling missing outcome data in randomised trials affected by a pandemic

Cro, S; Morris, TP; Kahan, BC; Cornelius, VR; Carpenter, JR; (2020) A four-step strategy for handling missing outcome data in randomised trials affected by a pandemic. BMC Medical Research Methodology , 20 (1) , Article 208. 10.1186/s12874-020-01089-6. Green open access

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Abstract

Background The coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) presents a variety of challenges for ongoing clinical trials, including an inevitably higher rate of missing outcome data, with new and non-standard reasons for missingness. International drug trial guidelines recommend trialists review plans for handling missing data in the conduct and statistical analysis, but clear recommendations are lacking. Methods We present a four-step strategy for handling missing outcome data in the analysis of randomised trials that are ongoing during a pandemic. We consider handling missing data arising due to (i) participant infection, (ii) treatment disruptions and (iii) loss to follow-up. We consider both settings where treatment effects for a ‘pandemic-free world’ and ‘world including a pandemic’ are of interest. Results In any trial, investigators should; (1) Clarify the treatment estimand of interest with respect to the occurrence of the pandemic; (2) Establish what data are missing for the chosen estimand; (3) Perform primary analysis under the most plausible missing data assumptions followed by; (4) Sensitivity analysis under alternative plausible assumptions. To obtain an estimate of the treatment effect in a ‘pandemic-free world’, participant data that are clinically affected by the pandemic (directly due to infection or indirectly via treatment disruptions) are not relevant and can be set to missing. For primary analysis, a missing-at-random assumption that conditions on all observed data that are expected to be associated with both the outcome and missingness may be most plausible. For the treatment effect in the ‘world including a pandemic’, all participant data is relevant and should be included in the analysis. For primary analysis, a missing-at-random assumption – potentially incorporating a pandemic time-period indicator and participant infection status – or a missing-not-at-random assumption with a poorer response may be most relevant, depending on the setting. In all scenarios, sensitivity analysis under credible missing-not-at-random assumptions should be used to evaluate the robustness of results. We highlight controlled multiple imputation as an accessible tool for conducting sensitivity analyses. Conclusions Missing data problems will be exacerbated for trials active during the Covid-19 pandemic. This four-step strategy will facilitate clear thinking about the appropriate analysis for relevant questions of interest.

Type: Article
Title: A four-step strategy for handling missing outcome data in randomised trials affected by a pandemic
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1186/s12874-020-01089-6
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-020-01089-6
Language: English
Additional information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology > MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10107831
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