Background and purpose: Most large acute stroke trials have been neutral. Functional outcome is usually analyzed using a yes or no answer, eg, death or dependency versus independence. We assessed which statistical approaches are most efficient in analyzing outcomes from stroke trials.
Methods: Individual patient data from acute, rehabilitation and stroke unit trials studying the effects of interventions which alter functional outcome were assessed. Outcomes included modified Rankin Scale, Barthel Index, and "3 questions". Data were analyzed using a variety of approaches which compare 2 treatment groups. The results for each statistical test for each trial were then compared.
Results: Data from 55 datasets were obtained (47 trials, 54,173 patients). The test results differed substantially so that approaches which use the ordered nature of functional outcome data (ordinal logistic regression, t test, robust ranks test, bootstrapping the difference in mean rank) were more efficient statistically than those which collapse the data into 2 groups (chi(2); ANOVA, P<0.001). The findings were consistent across different types and sizes of trial and for the different measures of functional outcome.
Conclusions: When analyzing functional outcome from stroke trials, statistical tests which use the original ordered data are more efficient and more likely to yield reliable results. Suitable approaches included ordinal logistic regression, t test, and robust ranks test.