Propensity score methods for observational studies with clustered data: A review


Propensity score methods are a popular approach to mitigating confounding bias when estimating causal effects in observational studies. When study units are clustered (eg, patients nested within health systems), additional challenges arise such as accounting for unmeasured confounding at multiple levels and dependence between units within the same cluster. While clustered observational data are widely used to draw causal inferences in many fields, including medicine and healthcare, extensions of propensity score methods to clustered settings are still a relatively new area of research. This article presents a framework for estimating causal effects using propensity scores when study units are nested within clusters and are nonrandomly assigned to treatment conditions. We emphasize the need for investigators to examine the nature of the clustering, among other properties, of the observational data at hand in order to guide their choice of causal estimands and the corresponding propensity score approach.

Elizabeth A. Stuart
Chair Department of Biostatistics | Professor

Trained as a statistician, my primary research interests are in the development and use of methodology to better design and analyze the causal effects of public health and educational interventions. In this way I hope to bridge statistical advances and research practice, working with mental health and educational researchers to identify and solve methodological challenges.