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01-04-2015 | Uitgave 4/2015

Quality of Life Research 4/2015

Multiple imputation to deal with missing EQ-5D-3L data: Should we impute individual domains or the actual index?

Quality of Life Research > Uitgave 4/2015
Claire L. Simons, Oliver Rivero-Arias, Ly-Mee Yu, Judit Simon
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1007/​s11136-014-0837-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Claire L. Simons and Oliver Rivero-Arias are joint lead authors.



Missing data are a well-known and widely documented problem in cost-effectiveness analyses alongside clinical trials using individual patient-level data. Current methodological research recommends multiple imputation (MI) to deal with missing health outcome data, but there is little guidance on whether MI for multi-attribute questionnaires, such as the EQ-5D-3L, should be carried out at domain or at summary score level. In this paper, we evaluated the impact of imputing individual domains versus imputing index values to deal with missing EQ-5D-3L data using a simulation study and developed recommendations for future practice.


We simulated missing data in a patient-level dataset with complete EQ-5D-3L data at one point in time from a large multinational clinical trial (n = 1,814). Different proportions of missing data were generated using a missing at random (MAR) mechanism and three different scenarios were studied. The performance of using each method was evaluated using root mean squared error and mean absolute error of the actual versus predicted EQ-5D-3L indices.


In large sample sizes (n > 500) and a missing data pattern that follows mainly unit non-response, imputing domains or the index produced similar results. However, domain imputation became more accurate than index imputation with pattern of missingness following an item non-response. For smaller sample sizes (n < 100), index imputation was more accurate. When MI models were misspecified, both domain and index imputations were inaccurate for any proportion of missing data.


The decision between imputing the domains or the EQ-5D-3L index scores depends on the observed missing data pattern and the sample size available for analysis. Analysts conducting this type of exercises should also evaluate the sensitivity of the analysis to the MAR assumption and whether the imputation model is correctly specified.

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