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Keywords:

  • Estimating equations;
  • health services research;
  • informative cluster size;
  • mixed models;
  • surgeon experience

Recently, there has been much interest in using volume-outcome data to establish causal associations between measures of surgical experience or quality and patient outcomes following a surgical procedure, such as coronary artery bypass graft, total hip replacement, and radical prostatectomy. However, there does not appear to be a standard approach to a volume-outcome analysis with respect to specifying a volume measure and selecting an estimation method. We establish the recurrent marked point process as a general framework from which to approach a longitudinal volume-outcome analysis and examine the statistical issues associated with using longitudinal data analysis methods to model aggregate volume-outcome data. We review assumptions to ensure that linear or generalized linear mixed models and generalized estimating equations provide valid estimates of the volume-outcome association. In addition, we provide theoretical and empirical evidence that bias may be introduced when an aggregate volume measure is used to address a scientific question regarding the effect of cumulative experience. We conclude with the recommendation that analysts carefully specify a volume measure that most accurately reflects their scientific question of interest and select an estimation method that is appropriate for their scientific context. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.