Semiparametric estimation of structural failure time models in continuous-time processes

Biometrika. 2020 Mar;107(1):123-136. doi: 10.1093/biomet/asz057. Epub 2019 Oct 29.


Structural failure time models are causal models for estimating the effect of time-varying treatments on a survival outcome. G-estimation and artificial censoring have been proposed for estimating the model parameters in the presence of time-dependent confounding and administrative censoring. However, most existing methods require manually pre-processing data into regularly spaced data, which may invalidate the subsequent causal analysis. Moreover, the computation and inference are challenging due to the nonsmoothness of artificial censoring. We propose a class of continuous-time structural failure time models that respects the continuous-time nature of the underlying data processes. Under a martingale condition of no unmeasured confounding, we show that the model parameters are identifiable from a potentially infinite number of estimating equations. Using the semiparametric efficiency theory, we derive the first semiparametric doubly robust estimators, which are consistent if the model for the treatment process or the failure time model, but not necessarily both, is correctly specified. Moreover, we propose using inverse probability of censoring weighting to deal with dependent censoring. In contrast to artificial censoring, our weighting strategy does not introduce nonsmoothness in estimation and ensures that resampling methods can be used for inference.

Keywords: Causality; Cox proportional hazards model; Discretization; Observational study; Semiparametric analysis; Survival data.