Biometrics. 2022 Jun 22. doi: 10.1111/biom.13709. Online ahead of print.
Measuring the treatment effect on recurrent events like hospitalization in the presence of death has long challenged statisticians and clinicians alike. Traditional inference on the cumulative frequency unjustly penalizes survivorship as longer survivors also tend to experience more adverse events. Expanding a recently suggested idea of “while-alive” event rate, we consider a general class of such estimands that adjust for the length of survival without losing causal interpretation. Given a user-specified loss function that allows for arbitrary weighting, we define as estimand the average loss experienced per unit time alive within a target period and use the ratio of this loss rate to measure the effect size. Scaling the loss rate by the width of the corresponding time window gives us an alternative, and sometimes more photogenic, way of showing the data. To make inference, we construct a nonparametric estimator for the loss rate through the cumulative loss and the restricted mean survival time, and derive its influence function in closed form for variance estimation and testing. As simulations and analysis of real data from a heart failure trial both show, the while-alive approach corrects for the false attenuation of treatment effect due to patients living longer under treatment, with increased statistical power as a result. The proposed methods are implemented in the R-package WA, publicly available from the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN).