Bias estimation in study design: a meta-epidemiological analysis of transcatheter versus surgical aortic valve replacement

BMC Surg. 2021 Jun 7;21(1):285. doi: 10.1186/s12893-021-01278-0.


Background: Paucity of RCTs of non-drug technologies lead to widespread dependence on non-randomized studies. Relationship between nonrandomized study design attributes and biased estimates of treatment effects are poorly understood. Our purpose was to estimate the bias associated with specific nonrandomized study attributes among studies comparing transcatheter aortic valve implantation with surgical aortic valve replacement for the treatment of severe aortic stenosis.

Results: We included 6 RCTs and 87 nonrandomized studies. Surgical risk scores were similar for comparison groups in RCTs, but were higher for patients having transcatheter aortic valve implantation in nonrandomized studies. Nonrandomized studies underestimated the benefit of transcatheter aortic valve implantation compared with RCTs. For example, nonrandomized studies without adjustment estimated a higher risk of postoperative mortality for transcatheter aortic valve implantation compared with surgical aortic valve replacement (OR 1.43 [95% CI 1.26 to 1.62]) than high quality RCTs (OR 0.78 [95% CI 0.54 to 1.11). Nonrandomized studies using propensity score matching (OR 1.13 [95% CI 0.85 to 1.52]) and regression modelling (OR 0.68 [95% CI 0.57 to 0.81]) to adjust results estimated treatment effects closer to high quality RCTs. Nonrandomized studies describing losses to follow-up estimated treatment effects that were significantly closer to high quality RCT than nonrandomized studies that did not.

Conclusion: Studies with different attributes produce different estimates of treatment effects. Study design attributes related to the completeness of follow-up may explain biased treatment estimates in nonrandomized studies, as in the case of aortic valve replacement where high-risk patients were preferentially selected for the newer (transcatheter) procedure.

Keywords: Aortic stenosis; Bias; Meta-epidemiological; Meta-regression; Non drug health technologies; Nonrandomized studies; Randomized controlled trials; SAVR; Study design attributes; TAVI.

MeSH terms

  • Aortic Valve / surgery
  • Aortic Valve Stenosis* / surgery
  • Heart Valve Prosthesis Implantation*
  • Heart Valve Prosthesis*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement*
  • Treatment Outcome