Is omission of free text records a possible source of data loss and bias in Clinical Practice Research Datalink studies? A case-control study.
BMJ Publishing Group
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OBJECTIVES: To estimate data loss and bias in studies of Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) data that restrict analyses to Read codes, omitting anything recorded as text. DESIGN: Matched case-control study. SETTING: Patients contributing data to the CPRD. PARTICIPANTS: 4915 bladder and 3635 pancreatic, cancer cases diagnosed between 1 January 2000 and 31 December 2009, matched on age, sex and general practitioner practice to up to 5 controls (bladder: n=21 718; pancreas: n=16 459). The analysis period was the year before cancer diagnosis. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY OUTCOME MEASURES: Frequency of haematuria, jaundice and abdominal pain, grouped by recording style: Read code or text-only (ie, hidden text). The association between recording style and case-control status (χ(2) test). For each feature, the odds ratio (OR; conditional logistic regression) and positive predictive value (PPV; Bayes' theorem) for cancer, before and after addition of hidden text records. RESULTS: Of the 20 958 total records of the features, 7951 (38%) were recorded in hidden text. Hidden text recording was more strongly associated with controls than with cases for haematuria (140/336=42% vs 556/3147=18%) in bladder cancer (χ(2) test, p<0.001), and for jaundice (21/31=67% vs 463/1565=30%, p<0.0001) and abdominal pain (323/1126=29% vs 397/1789=22%, p<0.001) in pancreatic cancer. Adding hidden text records corrected PPVs of haematuria for bladder cancer from 4.0% (95% CI 3.5% to 4.6%) to 2.9% (2.6% to 3.2%), and of jaundice for pancreatic cancer from 12.8% (7.3% to 21.6%) to 6.3% (4.5% to 8.7%). Adding hidden text records did not alter the PPV of abdominal pain for bladder (codes: 0.14%, 0.13% to 0.16% vs codes plus hidden text: 0.14%, 0.13% to 0.15%) or pancreatic (0.23%, 0.21% to 0.25% vs 0.21%, 0.20% to 0.22%) cancer. CONCLUSIONS: Omission of text records from CPRD studies introduces bias that inflates outcome measures for recognised alarm symptoms. This potentially reinforces clinicians' views of the known importance of these symptoms, marginalising the significance of 'low-risk but not no-risk' symptoms.
SJP is funded by a University of Exeter PhD studentship. This report presents independent research part funded by the National Institute for Health Research Programme Grants for Applied Research programme (RP-PG-0608- 10045). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the National Health Service, the National Institute for Health Research, or the Department of Health.
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Vol. 6, e011664
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