Interrupted time series (ITS) analysis is arguably the strongest quasi-experimental research design. ITS is particularly useful when a randomized trial is infeasible or unethical. The approach usually involves constructing a time series of population-level rates for a particular quality improvement focus (eg, rates of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] medication initiation) and testing statistically for a change in the outcome rate in the time periods before and time periods after implementation of a policy/program designed to change the outcome. In parallel, investigators often analyze rates of negative outcomes that might be (unintentionally) affected by the policy/program. We discuss why ITS is a useful tool for quality improvement. Strengths of ITS include the ability to control for secular trends in the data (unlike a 2-period before-and-after t test), ability to evaluate outcomes using population-level data, clear graphical presentation of results, ease of conducting stratified analyses, and ability to evaluate both intended and unintended consequences of interventions. Limitations of ITS include the need for a minimum of 8 time periods before and 8 after an intervention to evaluate changes statistically, difficulty in analyzing the independent impact of separate components of a program that are implemented close together in time, and existence of a suitable control population. Investigators must also be careful not to make individual-level inferences when population-level rates are used to evaluate interventions (though ITS can be used with individual-level data). A brief description of ITS is provided, including a fully implemented (but hypothetical) study of the impact of a program to reduce ADHD medication initiation in children younger than 5 years old and insured by Medicaid in Washington State. An example of the database needed to conduct an ITS is provided, as well as SAS code to implement a difference-in-differences model using preschool-age children in California as a comparison group.
Keywords: interrupted time series; quality improvement; quasi-experimental; research design.
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