An Implementation and Visualization of the Tree-Based Scan Statistic for Safety Event Monitoring in Longitudinal Electronic Health Data

Drug Saf. 2019 Jun;42(6):727-741. doi: 10.1007/s40264-018-00784-0.


Introduction: Longitudinal electronic healthcare data hold great potential for drug safety surveillance. The tree-based scan statistic (TBSS), as implemented by the TreeScan® software, allows for hypothesis-free signal detection in longitudinal data by grouping safety events according to branching, hierarchical data coding systems, and then identifying signals of disproportionate recording (SDRs) among the singular events or event groups.

Objective: The objective of this analysis was to identify and visualize SDRs with the TBSS in historical data from patients using two antifungal drugs, itraconazole or terbinafine. By examining patients who used either itraconazole or terbinafine, we provide a conceptual replication of a previous TBSS analyses by varying methodological choices and using a data source that had not been previously used with the TBSS, i.e., the Optum Clinformatics™ claims database. With this analysis, we aimed to test a parsimonious design that could be the basis of a broadly applicable method for multiple drug and safety event pairs.

Methods: The TBSS analysis was used to examine incident events and any itraconazole or terbinafine use among US-based patients from 2002 through 2007. Event frequencies before and after the first day of drug exposure were compared over 14- and 56-day periods of observation in a Bernoulli model with a self-controlled design. Safety events were classified into a hierarchical tree structure using the Clinical Classifications Software (CCS) which mapped International Classification of Diseases, 9th Revision (ICD-9) codes to 879 diagnostic groups. Using the TBSS, the log likelihood ratio of observed versus expected events in all groups along the CCS hierarchy were compared, and groups of events that occurred at disproportionally high frequencies were identified as potential SDRs; p-values for the potential SDRs were estimated with Monte-Carlo permutation based methods. Output from TreeScan® was visualized and plotted as a network which followed the CCS tree structure.

Results: Terbinafine use (n = 223,968) was associated with SDRs for diseases of the circulatory system (14- and 56-day p = 0.001) and heart (14-day p = 0.026 and 56-day p = 0.001) as well as coronary atherosclerosis and other heart disease (14-day p = 0.003 and 56-day p = 0.004). For itraconazole use (n = 36,025), the TBSS identified SDRs for coronary atherosclerosis and other heart disease (p = 0.002) and complications of an implanted or grafted device (14-day p = 0.001 and 56-day p < 0.05). Use of both drugs was associated with SDRs for diseases of the digestive system at 14 days (p < 0.05) and this SDR had been observed among terbinafine users in a previous TBSS analysis with a different data source. The TreeScan® visualization facilitated the identification of the atherosclerosis and other heart disease SDRs as well as highlighting the consistency of the SDR for diseases of the digestive system across drugs and data sources.

Conclusion: With the TBSS, we identified potential SDRs related to the circulatory system that may reflect the cardiac risk that was described in the itraconazole product label. SDRs for diseases of the digestive system among terbinafine users were also reported in a previous signal detection analysis, although other SDRs from the previous publications were not replicated. The TBSS visualizations aided in the understanding and interpretation of the TBSS output, including the comparisons to the previous publications. In this conceptual replication, differences in the results observed in our analysis and the previous analyses could be attributable to variation in modeling and design choices as well as factors that were intrinsic to the underlying data sources. The broad consistency, but far from perfect concordance, of our results with the known safety profile of these antifungals including the risks from the itraconazole product label supports the rationale for continued investigations of signal detection methods across differing data sources and populations.

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems / statistics & numerical data*
  • Antifungal Agents / adverse effects*
  • Computers / statistics & numerical data
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Itraconazole / adverse effects
  • Software / statistics & numerical data
  • Terbinafine / adverse effects


  • Antifungal Agents
  • Itraconazole
  • Terbinafine