Many extensions of survival models based on the Cox proportional hazards approach have been proposed to handle clustered or multiple event data. Of particular note are five Cox-based models for recurrent event data: Andersen and Gill (AG); Wei, Lin and Weissfeld (WLW); Prentice, Williams and Peterson, total time (PWP-CP) and gap time (PWP-GT); and Lee, Wei and Amato (LWA). Some authors have compared these models by observing differences that arise from fitting the models to real and simulated data. However, no attempt has been made to systematically identify the components of the models that are appropriate for recurrent event data. We propose a systematic way of characterizing such Cox-based models using four key components: risk intervals; baseline hazard; risk set, and correlation adjustment. From the definitions of risk interval and risk set there are conceptually seven such Cox-based models that are permissible, five of which are those previously identified. The two new variant models are termed the 'total time - restricted' (TT-R) and 'gap time - unrestricted' (GT-UR) models. The aim of the paper is to determine which models are appropriate for recurrent event data using the key components. The models are fitted to simulated data sets and to a data set of childhood recurrent infectious diseases. The LWA model is not appropriate for recurrent event data because it allows a subject to be at risk several times for the same event. The WLW model overestimates treatment effect and is not recommended. We conclude that PWP-GT and TT-R are useful models for analysing recurrent event data, providing answers to slightly different research questions. Further, applying a robust variance to any of these models does not adequately account for within-subject correlation.
Copyright 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.