On the use of propensity scores in case of rare exposure.BMC Med Res Methodol. 2016 Mar 31; 16:38.BM
Observational post-marketing assessment studies often involve evaluating the effect of a rare treatment on a time-to-event outcome, through the estimation of a marginal hazard ratio. Propensity score (PS) methods are the most used methods to estimate marginal effect of an exposure in observational studies. However there is paucity of data concerning their performance in a context of low prevalence of exposure.
We conducted an extensive series of Monte Carlo simulations to examine the performance of the two preferred PS methods, known as PS-matching and PS-weighting to estimate marginal hazard ratios, through various scenarios.
We found that both PS-weighting and PS-matching could be biased when estimating the marginal effect of rare exposure. The less biased results were obtained with estimators of average treatment effect in the treated population (ATT), in comparison with estimators of average treatment effect in the overall population (ATE). Among ATT estimators, PS-weighting using ATT weights outperformed PS-matching. These results are illustrated using a real observational study.
When clinical objectives are focused on the treated population, applied researchers are encouraged to estimate ATT with PS-weighting for studying the relative effect of a rare treatment on time-to-event outcomes.