Statistical issues in TBI clinical studies

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The identification and longitudinal assessment of traumatic brain injury presents several challenges. Because these injuries can have subtle effects, efforts to find quantitative physiological measures that can be used to characterize traumatic brain injury are receiving increased attention. The results of this research must be considered with care. Six reasons for cautious assessment are outlined in this paper. None of the issues raised here are new. They are standard elements in the technical literature that describes the mathematical analysis of clinical data. The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to these issues because they need to be considered when clinicians evaluate the usefulness of this research. In some instances these points are demonstrated by simulation studies of diagnostic processes. We take as an additional objective the explicit presentation of the mathematical methods used to reach these conclusions. This material is in the appendices. The following points are made: (1) A statistically significant separation of a clinical population from a control population does not ensure a successful diagnostic procedure. (2) Adding more variables to a diagnostic discrimination can, in some instances, actually reduce classification accuracy. (3) A high sensitivity and specificity in a TBI versus control population classification does not ensure diagnostic successes when the method is applied in a more general neuropsychiatric population. (4) Evaluation of treatment effectiveness must recognize that high variability is a pronounced characteristic of an injured central nervous system and that results can be confounded by either disease progression or spontaneous recovery. A large pre-treatment versus post-treatment effect size does not, of itself, establish a successful treatment. (5) A procedure for discriminating between treatment responders and non-responders requires, minimally, a two phase investigation. This procedure must include a mechanism to discriminate between treatment responders, placebo responders, and spontaneous recovery. (6) A search for prodromes of neuropsychiatric disorders following traumatic brain injury can be implemented with these procedures. © 2013 Rapp, Cellucci, Keyser, Gilpin and Darmon.




Rapp, P. E., Cellucci, C. J., Keyser, D. O., Gilpin, A. M. K., & Darmon, D. M. (2013). Statistical issues in TBI clinical studies. Frontiers in Neurology, 4 NOV.

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