Unmeasured confounding undermines the validity of observational studies. Although randomized clinical trials (RCTs) are considered the “gold standard” of study types, we often observe divergent findings between RCTs and empirical settings. We present the “L-table”, a simulation-based, prior knowledge (e.g., RCTs) guided approach that estimates the true effect adjusting for the potential influence of unmeasured confounders when using observational data. Using electronic health record data from Kaiser Permanente Southern California, we compare the effectiveness of coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) and percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) on endpoints at 1, 3, 5, and 10 years for patients with stable ischemic heart disease. We applied the L-table approach to the propensity score adjusted cohort to derive the omitted-confounder-adjusted estimated effects. After the L-table adjustment, CABG patients are 57.6% less likely to encounter major adverse cardiac and cerebrovascular event (MACCE) at 1 year (OR [95% CI] 0.424 [0.396, 0.517]), 56.4% less likely at 3 years (OR [95% CI] 0.436 [0.369, 0.527]), and 48.9% less likely at 5 years (OR [95% CI] 0.511 [0.451, 0.538]). CABG patients are also 49.5% less likely to die by the end of 10 years than PCI patients (OR [95% CI] 0.505 [0.446, 0.582]). We found the estimated true effects all shifted towards CABG as a more effective procedure that led to better health outcomes compared to PCI. Unlike existing sensitivity tools, the L-table approach explicitly lays out probable values and can therefore better support clinical decision-making. We recommend using L-table as a supplement to available techniques of sensitivity analysis.
The full study is available in Health Services and Outcomes Research Methodology.