Imputing missing data of function and disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis registers: what is the best technique?


Objective To compare several methods of missing data imputation for function (Health Assessment Questionnaire) and for disease activity (Disease Activity Score-28 and Clinical Disease Activity Index) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Methods One thousand RA patients from observational cohort studies with complete data for function and disease activity at baseline, 6, 12 and 24 months were selected to conduct a simulation study. Values were deleted at random or following a predicted attrition bias. Three types of imputation were performed: (1) methods imputing forward in time (last observation carried forward; linear forward extrapolation); (2) methods considering data both forward and backward in time (nearest available observation NAO; linear extrapolation; polynomial extrapolation); and (3) methods using multi-individual models (linear mixed effects cubic regression LME3; multiple imputation by chained equation MICE). The performance of each estimation method was assessed using the difference between the mean outcome value, the remission and low disease activity rates after imputation of the missing values and the true value. Results When imputing missing baseline values, all methods underestimated equally the true value, but LME3 and MICE correctly estimated remission and low disease activity rates. When imputing missing follow-up values at 6, 12, or 24 months, NAO provided the least biassed estimate of the mean disease activity and corresponding remission rate. These results were not affected by the presence of attrition bias. Conclusion When imputing function and disease activity in large registers of active RA patients, researchers can consider the use of a simple method such as NAO for missing follow-up data, and the use of mixed-effects regression or multiple imputation for baseline data.

RMD Open, 5(2) page e000994