Multi-state Markov models for disease progression in the presence of informative examination times: An application to hepatitis C
In many chronic diseases it is important to understand the rate at which patients progress from infection through a series of defined disease states to a clinical outcome, e.g. cirrhosis in hepatitis C virus (HCV)-infected individuals or AIDS in HIV-infected individuals. Typically data are obtained from longitudinal studies, which often are observational in nature, and where disease state is observed only at selected examinations throughout follow-up. Transition times between disease states are therefore interval censored. Multi-state Markov models are commonly used to analyze such data, but rely on the assumption that the examination times are non-informative, and hence the examination process is ignorable in a likelihood-based analysis. In this paper we develop a Markov model that relaxes this assumption through the premise that the examination process is ignorable only after conditioning on a more regularly observed auxiliary variable. This situation arises in a study of HCV disease progression, where liver biopsies (the examinations) are sparse, irregular, and potentially informative with respect to the transition times. We use additional information on liver function tests (LFTs), commonly collected throughout follow-up, to inform current disease state and to assume an ignorable examination process. The model developed has a similar structure to a hidden Markov model and accommodates both the series of LFT measurements and the partially latent series of disease states. We show through simulation how this model compares with the commonly used ignorable Markov model, and a Markov model that assumes the examination process is non-ignorable. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.