An overview of the objectives of and the approaches to propensity score analyses

Eur Heart J. 2011 Jul;32(14):1704-8. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehr031. Epub 2011 Feb 28.


The assessment of treatment effects from observational studies may be biased with patients not randomly allocated to the experimental or control group. One way to overcome this conceptual shortcoming in the design of such studies is the use of propensity scores to adjust for differences of the characteristics between patients treated with experimental and control interventions. The propensity score is defined as the probability that a patient received the experimental intervention conditional on pre-treatment characteristics at baseline. Here, we review how propensity scores are estimated and how they can help in adjusting the treatment effect for baseline imbalances. We further discuss how to evaluate adequate overlap of baseline characteristics between patient groups, provide guidelines for variable selection and model building in modelling the propensity score, and review different methods of propensity score adjustments. We conclude that propensity analyses may help in evaluating the comparability of patients in observational studies, and may account for more potential confounding factors than conventional covariate adjustment approaches. However, bias due to unmeasured confounding cannot be corrected for.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bias
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Humans
  • Propensity Score*
  • Treatment Outcome