Confounding by indication of the safety of de-escalation in community-acquired pneumonia: A simulation study embedded in a prospective cohort

Inger van Heijl, Valentijn A Schweitzer, C H Edwin Boel, Jan Jelrik Oosterheert, Susanne M Huijts, Wendelien Dorigo-Zetsma, Paul D van der Linden, Marc J M Bonten, Cornelis H van Werkhoven

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Observational studies have demonstrated that de-escalation of antimicrobial therapy is independently associated with lower mortality. This most probably results from confounding by indication. Reaching clinical stability is associated with the decision to de-escalate and with survival. However, studies rarely adjust for this confounder. We quantified the potential confounding effect of clinical stability on the estimated impact of de-escalation on mortality in patients with community-acquired pneumonia. Data were used from the Community-Acquired Pneumonia immunization Trial in Adults (CAPiTA). The primary outcome was 30-day mortality. We performed Cox proportional-hazards regression with de-escalation as time-dependent variable and adjusted for baseline characteristics using propensity scores. The potential impact of unmeasured confounding was quantified through simulating a variable representing clinical stability on day three, using data on prevalence and associations with mortality from the literature. Of 1,536 included patients, 257 (16.7%) were de-escalated, 123 (8.0%) were escalated and in 1156 (75.3%) the antibiotic spectrum remained unchanged. Crude 30-day mortality was 3.5% (9/257) and 10.9% (107/986) in the de-escalation and continuation groups, respectively. The adjusted hazard ratio of de-escalation for 30-day mortality (compared to patients with unchanged coverage), without adjustment for clinical stability, was 0.39 (95%CI: 0.19-0.79). If 90% to 100% of de-escalated patients were clinically stable on day three, the fully adjusted hazard ratio would be 0.56 (95%CI: 0.27-1.12) to 1.04 (95%CI: 0.49-2.23), respectively. The simulated confounder was substantially stronger than any of the baseline confounders in our dataset. Quantification of effects of de-escalation on patient outcomes without proper adjustment for clinical stability results in strong negative bias. This study suggests the effect of de-escalation on mortality needs further well-designed prospective research to determine effect size more accurately.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0218062
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


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