Journal Article
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
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Network meta-analysis for an ordinal outcome when outcome categorization varies across trials.

Systematic Reviews 2024 May 10
BACKGROUND: Binary outcomes are likely the most common in randomized controlled trials, but ordinal outcomes can also be of interest. For example, rather than simply collecting data on diseased versus healthy study subjects, investigators may collect information on the severity of disease, with no disease, mild, moderate, and severe disease as possible levels of the outcome. While some investigators may be interested in all levels of the ordinal variable, others may combine levels that are not of particular interest. Therefore, when research synthesizers subsequently conduct a network meta-analysis on a network of trials for which an ordinal outcome was measured, they may encounter a network in which outcome categorization varies across trials.

METHODS: The standard method for network meta-analysis for an ordinal outcome based on a multinomial generalized linear model is not designed to accommodate the multiple outcome categorizations that might occur across trials. In this paper, we propose a network meta-analysis model for an ordinal outcome that allows for multiple categorizations. The proposed model incorporates the partial information provided by trials that combine levels through modification of the multinomial likelihoods of the affected arms, allowing for all available data to be considered in estimation of the comparative effect parameters. A Bayesian fixed effect model is used throughout, where the ordinality of the outcome is accounted for through the use of the adjacent-categories logit link.

RESULTS: We illustrate the method by analyzing a real network of trials on the use of antibiotics aimed at preventing liver abscesses in beef cattle and explore properties of the estimates of the comparative effect parameters through simulation. We find that even with the categorization of the levels varying across trials, the magnitudes of the biases are relatively small and that under a large sample size, the root mean square errors become small as well.

CONCLUSIONS: Our proposed method to conduct a network meta-analysis for an ordinal outcome when the categorization of the outcome varies across trials, which utilizes the adjacent-categories logit link, performs well in estimation. Because the method considers all available data in a single estimation, it will be particularly useful to research synthesizers when the network of interest has only a limited number of trials for each categorization of the outcome.

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