An Estimating Function Approach to the Analysis of Recurrent and Terminal Events




In clinical and observational studies, the event of interest can often recur on the same subject. In a more complicated situation, there exists a terminal event (e.g., death) which stops the recurrent event process. In many such instances, the terminal event is strongly correlated with the recurrent event process. We consider the recurrent/terminal event setting and model the dependence through a shared gamma frailty that is included in both the recurrent event rate and terminal event hazard functions. Conditional on the frailty, a model is specified only for the marginal recurrent event process, hence avoiding the strong Poisson-type assumptions traditionally used. Analysis is based on estimating functions that allow for estimation of covariate effects on the recurrent event rate and terminal event hazard. The method also permits estimation of the degree of association between the two processes. Closed-form asymptotic variance estimators are proposed. The proposed method is evaluated through simulations to assess the applicability of the asymptotic results in finite samples and the sensitivity of the method to its underlying assumptions. The methods can be extended in straightforward ways to accommodate multiple types of recurrent and terminal events. Finally, the methods are illustrated in an analysis of hospitalization data for patients in an international multi-center study of outcomes among dialysis patients.