Introduction: The clinical significance of a treatment effect demonstrated in a randomized trial is typically assessed by reference to differences in event rates at the group level. An alternative is to make individualized predictions for each patient based on a prediction model. This approach is growing in popularity, particularly for cancer. Despite its intuitive advantages, it remains plausible that some prediction models may do more harm than good. Here we present a novel method for determining whether predictions from a model should be used to apply the results of a randomized trial to individual patients, as opposed to using group level results.
Methods: We propose applying the prediction model to a data set from a randomized trial and examining the results of patients for whom the treatment arm recommended by a prediction model is congruent with allocation. These results are compared with the strategy of treating all patients through use of a net benefit function that incorporates both the number of patients treated and the outcome. We examined models developed using data sets regarding adjuvant chemotherapy for colorectal cancer and Dutasteride for benign prostatic hypertrophy.
Results: For adjuvant chemotherapy, we found that patients who would opt for chemotherapy even for small risk reductions, and, conversely, those who would require a very large risk reduction, would on average be harmed by using a prediction model; those with intermediate preferences would on average benefit by allowing such information to help their decision making. Use of prediction could, at worst, lead to the equivalent of an additional death or recurrence per 143 patients; at best it could lead to the equivalent of a reduction in the number of treatments of 25% without an increase in event rates. In the Dutasteride case, where the average benefit of treatment is more modest, there is a small benefit of prediction modelling, equivalent to a reduction of one event for every 100 patients given an individualized prediction.
Conclusion: The size of the benefit associated with appropriate clinical implementation of a good prediction model is sufficient to warrant development of further models. However, care is advised in the implementation of prediction modelling, especially for patients who would opt for treatment even if it was of relatively little benefit.