Investigating hospital heterogeneity with a competing risks frailty model

Anja J. Rueten-Budde, Hein Putter, Marta Fiocco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Survival analysis is used in the medical field to identify the effect of predictive variables on time to a specific event. Generally, not all variation of survival time can be explained by observed covariates. The effect of unobserved variables on the risk of a patient is called frailty. In multicenter studies, the unobserved center effect can induce frailty on its patients, which can lead to selection bias over time when ignored. For this reason, it is common practice in multicenter studies to include a random frailty term modeling center effect. In a more complex event structure, more than one type of event is possible. Independent frailty variables representing center effect can be incorporated in the model for each competing event. However, in the medical context, events representing disease progression are likely related and correlation is missed when assuming frailties to be independent. In this work, an additive gamma frailty model to account for correlation between frailties in a competing risks model is proposed, to model frailties at center level. Correlation indicates a common center effect on both events and measures how closely the risks are related. Estimation of the model using the expectation-maximization algorithm is illustrated. The model is applied to a data set from a multicenter clinical trial on breast cancer from the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC trial 10854). Hospitals are compared by employing empirical Bayes estimates methodology together with corresponding confidence intervals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-288
Number of pages20
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • competing risks
  • correlated frailty
  • EM algorithm
  • multicenter
  • unobserved heterogeneity


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