Prescription duration and treatment episodes in oral glucocorticoid users: application of the parametric waiting time distribution

Clin Epidemiol. 2017 Nov 16:9:591-600. doi: 10.2147/CLEP.S148671. eCollection 2017.


Purpose: Glucocorticoids are widely used medications. In many pharmacoepidemiological studies, duration of individual prescriptions and definition of treatment episodes are important issues. However, many data sources lack this information. We aimed to estimate duration of individual prescriptions for oral glucocorticoids and to describe continuous treatment episodes using the parametric waiting time distribution.

Methods: We used Danish nationwide registries to identify all prescriptions for oral glucocorticoids during 1996-2014. We applied the parametric waiting time distribution to estimate duration of individual prescriptions each year by estimating the 80th, 90th, 95th and 99th percentiles for the interarrival distribution. These corresponded to the time since last prescription during which 80%, 90%, 95% and 99% of users presented a new prescription for redemption. We used the Kaplan-Meier survival function to estimate length of first continuous treatment episodes by assigning estimated prescription duration to each prescription and thereby create treatment episodes from overlapping prescriptions.

Results: We identified 5,691,985 prescriptions issued to 854,429 individuals of whom 351,202 (41%) only redeemed 1 prescription in the whole study period. The 80th percentile for prescription duration ranged from 87 to 120 days, the 90th percentile from 116 to 150 days, the 95th percentile from 147 to 181 days, and the 99th percentile from 228 to 259 days during 1996-2014. Based on the 80th, 90th, 95th and 99th percentiles of prescription duration, the median length of continuous treatment was 113, 141, 170 and 243 days, respectively.

Conclusion: Our method and results may provide an important framework for future pharmacoepidemiological studies. The choice of which percentile of the interarrival distribution to apply as prescription duration has an impact on the level of misclassification. Use of the 80th percentile provides a measure of drug exposure that is specific, while the 99th percentile provides a sensitive measure.

Keywords: glucocorticoids; parametric waiting time distribution; pharmacoepidemiology; prescription duration.