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J Epidemiol Community Health 61:1010-1013 doi:10.1136/jech.2007.061747
  • Theory and methods

Case-mix adjustment in non-randomised observational evaluations: the constant risk fallacy

  1. Jon Nicholl
  1. Medical Care Research Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
  1. Jon Nicholl, Medical Care Research Unit, School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Regent Court, 30 Regent Street, Sheffield S1 4DA, UK; j.nicholl{at}sheffield.ac.uk
  • Accepted 12 March 2007

Abstract

Observational studies comparing groups or populations to evaluate services or interventions usually require case-mix adjustment to account for imbalances between the groups being compared. Simulation studies have, however, shown that case-mix adjustment can make any bias worse.

One reason this can happen is if the risk factors used in the adjustment are related to the risk in different ways in the groups or populations being compared, and ignoring this commits the “constant risk fallacy”.

Case-mix adjustment is particularly prone to this problem when the adjustment uses factors that are proxies for the real risk factors.

Interactions between risk factors and groups should always be examined before case-mix adjustment in observational studies.

Footnotes

  • Funding: The Medical Care Research Unit receives funding from the Department of Health.

  • The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Department of Health.

  • Competing interests: None.

  • Abbreviations:
    NRCT
    non-randomised controlled trial
    RTA
    road traffic accident