Estimating restricted mean treatment effects with stacked survival models

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The difference in restricted mean survival times between two groups is a clinically relevant summary measure. With observational data, there may be imbalances in confounding variables between the two groups. One approach to account for such imbalances is estimating a covariate-adjusted restricted mean difference by modeling the covariate-adjusted survival distribution and then marginalizing over the covariate distribution. Because the estimator for the restricted mean difference is defined by the estimator for the covariate-adjusted survival distribution, it is natural to expect that a better estimator of the covariate-adjusted survival distribution is associated with a better estimator of the restricted mean difference. We therefore propose estimating restricted mean differences with stacked survival models. Stacked survival models estimate a weighted average of several survival models by minimizing predicted error. By including a range of parametric, semi-parametric, and non-parametric models, stacked survival models can robustly estimate a covariate-adjusted survival distribution and, therefore, the restricted mean treatment effect in a wide range of scenarios. We demonstrate through a simulation study that better performance of the covariate-adjusted survival distribution often leads to better mean squared error of the restricted mean difference although there are notable exceptions. In addition, we demonstrate that the proposed estimator can perform nearly as well as Cox regression when the proportional hazards assumption is satisfied and significantly better when proportional hazards is violated. Finally, the proposed estimator is illustrated with data from the United Network for Organ Sharing to evaluate post-lung transplant survival between large-volume and small-volume centers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3319-3332
Number of pages14
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number19
StatePublished - Aug 30 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


  • bias-variance tradeoff
  • proportional hazards assumption
  • restricted mean difference
  • stacked survival models
  • survival analysis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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