The active comparator, new user study design in pharmacoepidemiology: historical foundations and contemporary application

Curr Epidemiol Rep. 2015 Dec;2(4):221-228. doi: 10.1007/s40471-015-0053-5. Epub 2015 Sep 30.


Better understanding of biases related to selective prescribing of, and adherence to, preventive treatments has led to improvements in the design and analysis of pharmacoepidemiologic studies. One influential development has been the "active comparator, new user" study design, which seeks to emulate the design of a head-to-head randomized controlled trial. In this review, we first discuss biases that may affect pharmacoepidemiologic studies and describe their direction and magnitude in a variety of settings. We then present the historical foundations of the active comparator, new user study design and explain how this design conceptually mitigates biases leading to a paradigm shift in pharmacoepidemiology. We offer practical guidance on the implementation of the study design using administrative databases. Finally, we provide an empirical example in which the active comparator, new user study design addresses biases that have previously impeded pharmacoepidemiologic studies.

Keywords: confounding; pharmacoepidemiology; selection bias; study design.