Handling drop-out in longitudinal clinical trials: a comparison of the LOCF and MMRM approaches

Pharm Stat. Apr-Jun 2008;7(2):93-106. doi: 10.1002/pst.267.


This study compares two methods for handling missing data in longitudinal trials: one using the last-observation-carried-forward (LOCF) method and one based on a multivariate or mixed model for repeated measurements (MMRM). Using data sets simulated to match six actual trials, I imposed several drop-out mechanisms, and compared the methods in terms of bias in the treatment difference and power of the treatment comparison. With equal drop-out in Active and Placebo arms, LOCF generally underestimated the treatment effect; but with unequal drop-out, bias could be much larger and in either direction. In contrast, bias with the MMRM method was much smaller; and whereas MMRM rarely caused a difference in power of greater than 20%, LOCF caused a difference in power of greater than 20% in nearly half the simulations. Use of the LOCF method is therefore likely to misrepresent the results of a trial seriously, and so is not a good choice for primary analysis. In contrast, the MMRM method is unlikely to result in serious misinterpretation, unless the drop-out mechanism is missing not at random (MNAR) and there is substantially unequal drop-out. Moreover, MMRM is clearly more reliable and better grounded statistically. Neither method is capable of dealing on its own with trials involving MNAR drop-out mechanisms, for which sensitivity analysis is needed using more complex methods.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Patient Dropouts*