Multivariate meta-analysis, which involves jointly analyzing multiple and correlated outcomes from separate studies, has received a great deal of attention. One reason to prefer the multivariate approach is its ability to account for the dependence between multiple estimates from the same study. However, nearly all the existing methods for analyzing multivariate meta-analytic data require the knowledge of the within-study correlations, which are usually unavailable in practice. We propose a simple non-iterative method that can be used for the analysis of multivariate meta-analysis datasets, that has no convergence problems, and does not require the use of within-study correlations. Our approach uses standard univariate methods for the marginal effects but also provides valid joint inference for multiple parameters. The proposed method can directly handle missing outcomes under missing completely at random assumption. Simulation studies show that the proposed method provides unbiased estimates, well-estimated standard errors, and confidence intervals with good coverage probability. Furthermore, the proposed method is found to maintain high relative efficiency compared with conventional multivariate meta-analyses where the within-study correlations are known. We illustrate the proposed method through two real meta-analyses where functions of the estimated effects are of interest.
Keywords: method of moments; multivariate meta-analysis; non-iterative method; singular estimated covariance matrix; within-study correlation.
© 2015 The Authors. Statistics in Medicine Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.