Correcting for Measurement Error in Time-Varying Covariates in Marginal Structural Models

Am J Epidemiol. 2016 Aug 1;184(3):249-58. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww068. Epub 2016 Jul 13.


Unbiased estimation of causal parameters from marginal structural models (MSMs) requires a fundamental assumption of no unmeasured confounding. Unfortunately, the time-varying covariates used to obtain inverse probability weights are often error-prone. Although substantial measurement error in important confounders is known to undermine control of confounders in conventional unweighted regression models, this issue has received comparatively limited attention in the MSM literature. Here we propose a novel application of the simulation-extrapolation (SIMEX) procedure to address measurement error in time-varying covariates, and we compare 2 approaches. The direct approach to SIMEX-based correction targets outcome model parameters, while the indirect approach corrects the weights estimated using the exposure model. We assess the performance of the proposed methods in simulations under different clinically plausible assumptions. The simulations demonstrate that measurement errors in time-dependent covariates may induce substantial bias in MSM estimators of causal effects of time-varying exposures, and that both proposed SIMEX approaches yield practically unbiased estimates in scenarios featuring low-to-moderate degrees of error. We illustrate the proposed approach in a simple analysis of the relationship between sustained virological response and liver fibrosis progression among persons infected with hepatitis C virus, while accounting for measurement error in γ-glutamyltransferase, using data collected in the Canadian Co-infection Cohort Study from 2003 to 2014.

Keywords: SIMEX; causal inference; marginal structural models; measurement error; simulations; time-varying covariates.

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Coinfection / epidemiology
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Disease Progression
  • Epidemiologic Measurements*
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis C / complications
  • Hepatitis C / drug therapy
  • Hepatitis C / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / epidemiology
  • Liver Diseases / etiology
  • Logistic Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Time Factors