Even in the absence of unmeasured confounding factors or model misspecification, standard methods for estimating the causal effect of a time-varying treatment on the mean of a repeated measures outcome (for example, GEE regression) may be biased when there are time-dependent variables that are simultaneously confounders of the effect of interest and are predicted by previous treatment. In contrast, the recently developed marginal structural models (MSMs) can provide consistent estimates of causal effects when unmeasured confounding and model misspecification are absent. We describe an MSM for repeated measures that parameterizes the marginal means of counterfactual outcomes corresponding to prespecified treatment regimes. The parameters of MSMs are estimated using a new class of estimators - inverse-probability of treatment weighted estimators. We used an MSM to estimate the effect of zidovudine therapy on mean CD4 count among HIV-infected men in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study. We estimated a potential expected increase of 5.4 (95 per cent confidence interval -1.8,12.7) CD4 lymphocytes/l per additional study visit while on zidovudine therapy. We also explain the theory and implementation of MSMs for repeated measures data and draw upon a simple example to illustrate the basic ideas.
Copyright 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.