Real-time imputation of missing predictor values in clinical practice

Nijman SWJ, Hoogland J, Groenhof TKJ, Brandjes M, Jacobs JJL, Bots ML, Asselbergs FW, Moons KGM, Debray TPA, on behalf of the UCC-CVRM and UCC-SMART study groups

Aims: Use of prediction models is widely recommended by clinical guidelines, but usually requires complete information on all predictors, which is not always available in daily practice. We aim to describe two methods for real-time handling of missing predictor values when using prediction models in practice.

Methods and results: We compare the widely used method of mean imputation (M-imp) to a method that personalizes the imputations by taking advantage of the observed patient characteristics. These characteristics may include both prediction model variables and other characteristics (auxiliary variables). The method was implemented using imputation from a joint multivariate normal model of the patient characteristics (joint modelling imputation; JMI). Data from two different cardiovascular cohorts with cardiovascular predictors and outcome were used to evaluate the real-time imputation methods. We quantified the prediction model's overall performance [mean squared error (MSE) of linear predictor], discrimination (c-index), calibration (intercept and slope), and net benefit (decision curve analysis). When compared with mean imputation, JMI substantially improved the MSE (0.10 vs. 0.13), c-index (0.70 vs. 0.68), and calibration (calibration-in-the-large: 0.04 vs. 0.06; calibration slope: 1.01 vs. 0.92), especially when incorporating auxiliary variables. When the imputation method was based on an external cohort, calibration deteriorated, but discrimination remained similar.

Conclusions: We recommend JMI with auxiliary variables for real-time imputation of missing values, and to update imputation models when implementing them in new settings or (sub)populations.

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