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Assessing the performance of the generalized propensity score for estimating the effect of quantitative or continuous exposures on binary outcomes

Austin P. Stat Med. 2018; 37(11):1874-94. Epub 2018 Mar 6.


Propensity score methods are increasingly being used to estimate the effects of treatments and exposures when using observational data. The propensity score was initially developed for use with binary exposures. The generalized propensity score (GPS) is an extension of the propensity score for use with quantitative or continuous exposures (eg, dose or quantity of medication, income, or years of education). We used Monte Carlo simulations to examine the performance of different methods of using the GPS to estimate the effect of continuous exposures on binary outcomes. We examined covariate adjustment using the GPS and weighting using weights based on the inverse of the GPS. We examined both the use of ordinary least squares to estimate the propensity function and the use of the covariate balancing propensity score algorithm. The use of methods based on the GPS was compared with the use of G-computation. All methods resulted in essentially unbiased estimation of the population dose-response function. However, GPS-based weighting tended to result in estimates that displayed greater variability and had higher mean squared error when the magnitude of confounding was strong. Of the methods based on the GPS, covariate adjustment using the GPS tended to result in estimates with lower variability and mean squared error when the magnitude of confounding was strong. We illustrate the application of these methods by estimating the effect of average neighborhood income on the probability of death within 1 year of hospitalization for an acute myocardial infarction.

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