The Missing Covariate Indicator Method is Nearly Valid Almost Always

by   Mingyang Song, et al.

Background: Although the missing covariate indicator method (MCIM) has been shown to be biased under extreme conditions, the degree and determinants of bias have not been formally assessed. Methods: We derived the formula for the relative bias in the MCIM and systematically investigated conditions under which bias arises. Results: We found that the extent of bias is independent of both the disease rate and the exposure-outcome association, but is a function of 5 parameters: exposure and covariate prevalences, covariate missingness proportion, and associations of covariate with exposure and outcome. The MCIM was unbiased when the missing covariate is a risk factor for the outcome but not a confounder. The average median relative bias was zero across each of the parameters over a wide range of values considered. When missingness was no greater than 50 greater than 10 produced materially the same results as the multiple imputation method. Conclusion: The MCIM is nearly valid almost always in settings typically encountered in epidemiology and its continued use is recommended, unless the covariate is missing in an extreme proportion or acts as a strong confounder.


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