Open Access: A forward search algorithm for detecting extreme study effects in network meta-analysis

Each week, we select a recently published Open Access article to feature. This week’s article comes from Statistics in Medicine and looks at forward search algorithms.

The article’s abstract is given below, with the full article available to read here.

Petropoulou, MSalanti, GRücker, GSchwarzer, GMoustaki, IMavridis, DA forward search algorithm for detecting extreme study effects in network meta-analysisStatistics in Medicine20211– 15

In a quantitative synthesis of studies via meta-analysis, it is possible that some studies provide a markedly different relative treatment effect or have a large impact on the summary estimate and/or heterogeneity. Extreme study effects (outliers) can be detected visually with forest/funnel plots and by using statistical outlying detection methods. A forward search (FS) algorithm is a common outlying diagnostic tool recently extended to meta-analysis. FS starts by fitting the assumed model to a subset of the data which is gradually incremented by adding the remaining studies according to their closeness to the postulated data-generating model. At each step of the algorithm, parameter estimates, measures of fit (residuals, likelihood contributions), and test statistics are being monitored and their sharp changes are used as an indication for outliers. In this article, we extend the FS algorithm to network meta-analysis (NMA). In NMA, visualization of outliers is more challenging due to the multivariate nature of the data and the fact that studies contribute both directly and indirectly to the network estimates. Outliers are expected to contribute not only to heterogeneity but also to inconsistency, compromising the NMA results. The FS algorithm was applied to real and artificial networks of interventions that include outliers. We developed an R package (NMAoutlier) to allow replication and dissemination of the proposed method. We conclude that the FS algorithm is a visual diagnostic tool that helps to identify studies that are a potential source of heterogeneity and inconsistency.

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