Use of days alive without life support and similar count outcomes in randomised clinical trials – an overview and comparison of methodological choices and analysis methods

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Background: Days alive without life support (DAWOLS) and similar outcomes that seek to summarise mortality and non-mortality experiences are increasingly used in critical care research. The use of these outcomes is challenged by different definitions and non-normal outcome distributions that complicate statistical analysis decisions. Methods: We scrutinized the central methodological considerations when using DAWOLS and similar outcomes and provide a description and overview of the pros and cons of various statistical methods for analysis supplemented with a comparison of these methods using data from the COVID STEROID 2 randomised clinical trial. We focused on readily available regression models of increasing complexity (linear, hurdle-negative binomial, zero–one-inflated beta, and cumulative logistic regression models) that allow comparison of multiple treatment arms, adjustment for covariates and interaction terms to assess treatment effect heterogeneity. Results: In general, the simpler models adequately estimated group means despite not fitting the data well enough to mimic the input data. The more complex models better fitted and thus better replicated the input data, although this came with increased complexity and uncertainty of estimates. While the more complex models can model separate components of the outcome distributions (i.e., the probability of having zero DAWOLS), this complexity means that the specification of interpretable priors in a Bayesian setting is difficult. Finally, we present multiple examples of how these outcomes may be visualised to aid assessment and interpretation. Conclusions: This summary of central methodological considerations when using, defining, and analysing DAWOLS and similar outcomes may help researchers choose the definition and analysis method that best fits their planned studies. Trial registration: COVID STEROID 2 trial, NCT04509973, CTRI/2020/10/028731.

Original languageEnglish
Article number139
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Analysis methods, Count outcomes, Days alive out of hospital, Days alive without life support, Statistical models

ID: 357505501