On Estimation of the Survivor Average Causal Effect in Observational Studies When Important Confounders Are Missing Due to Death


  • Brian L. Egleston,

    Corresponding author
    1. Biostatistics Facility, Fox Chase Cancer Center, 333 Cottman Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19111-2497, U.S.A.
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  • Daniel O. Scharfstein,

    1. Department of Biostatistics, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., Baltimore, Maryland 21205, U.S.A.
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  • Ellen MacKenzie

    1. Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 624 N. Broadway, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, U.S.A.
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email: Brian.Egleston@fccc.edu


Summary We focus on estimation of the causal effect of treatment on the functional status of individuals at a fixed point in time t* after they have experienced a catastrophic event, from observational data with the following features: (i) treatment is imposed shortly after the event and is nonrandomized, (ii) individuals who survive to t* are scheduled to be interviewed, (iii) there is interview nonresponse, (iv) individuals who die prior to t* are missing information on preevent confounders, and (v) medical records are abstracted on all individuals to obtain information on postevent, pretreatment confounding factors. To address the issue of survivor bias, we seek to estimate the survivor average causal effect (SACE), the effect of treatment on functional status among the cohort of individuals who would survive to t* regardless of whether or not assigned to treatment. To estimate this effect from observational data, we need to impose untestable assumptions, which depend on the collection of all confounding factors. Because preevent information is missing on those who die prior to t*, it is unlikely that these data are missing at random. We introduce a sensitivity analysis methodology to evaluate the robustness of SACE inferences to deviations from the missing at random assumption. We apply our methodology to the evaluation of the effect of trauma center care on vitality outcomes using data from the National Study on Costs and Outcomes of Trauma Care.