Statistics in Medicine

Regression models for multiple outcomes in large epidemiologic studies

Journal Article


In situations in which one cannot specify a single primary outcome, epidemiologic analyses often examine multiple associations between outcomes and explanatory covariates or risk factors. To compare alternative approaches to the analysis of multiple outcomes in regression models, I used generalized estimating equations (GEE) models, a multivariate extension of generalized linear models, to incorporate the dependence among the outcomes from the same subject and to provide robust variance estimates of the regression coefficients. I applied the methods in a hospital‐population‐based study of complications of surgical anaesthesia, using GEE model fitting and quasi‐likelihood score and Wald tests. In one GEE model specification, I allowed the associations between each of the outcomes and a covariate to differ, yielding a regression coefficient for each of the outcome and covariate combinations; I obtained the covariances among the set of outcome‐specific regression coefficients for each covariate from the robust ‘sandwich’ variance estimator. To address the problem of multiple inference, I used simultaneous methods that make adjustments to the test statistic p‐values and the confidence interval widths, to control type I error and simultaneous coverage, respectively. In a second model specification, for each of the covariates I assumed a common association between the outcomes and the covariate, which eliminates the problem of multiplicity by use of a global test of association. In an alternative approach to multiplicity, I used empirical Bayes methods to shrink the outcome‐specific coefficients toward a pooled mean that is similar to the common effect coefficient. GEE regression models can provide a flexible framework for estimation and testing of multiple outcomes. © 1998 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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