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Open Access Open Badges Research article

A review of statistical estimators for risk-adjusted length of stay: analysis of the Australian and new Zealand intensive care adult patient data-base, 2008–2009

John L Moran1*, Patricia J Solomon2 and the ANZICS Centre for Outcome and Resource Evaluation (CORE) of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society (ANZICS)3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Intensive Care Medicine, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville, SA 5011, Australia

2 School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia

3 Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, Carlton Victoria, 3053, Australia

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2012, 12:68  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-68

Published: 16 May 2012



For the analysis of length-of-stay (LOS) data, which is characteristically right-skewed, a number of statistical estimators have been proposed as alternatives to the traditional ordinary least squares (OLS) regression with log dependent variable.


Using a cohort of patients identified in the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Adult Patient Database, 2008–2009, 12 different methods were used for estimation of intensive care (ICU) length of stay. These encompassed risk-adjusted regression analysis of firstly: log LOS using OLS, linear mixed model [LMM], treatment effects, skew-normal and skew-t models; and secondly: unmodified (raw) LOS via OLS, generalised linear models [GLMs] with log-link and 4 different distributions [Poisson, gamma, negative binomial and inverse-Gaussian], extended estimating equations [EEE] and a finite mixture model including a gamma distribution. A fixed covariate list and ICU-site clustering with robust variance were utilised for model fitting with split-sample determination (80%) and validation (20%) data sets, and model simulation was undertaken to establish over-fitting (Copas test). Indices of model specification using Bayesian information criterion [BIC: lower values preferred] and residual analysis as well as predictive performance (R2, concordance correlation coefficient (CCC), mean absolute error [MAE]) were established for each estimator.


The data-set consisted of 111663 patients from 131 ICUs; with mean(SD) age 60.6(18.8) years, 43.0% were female, 40.7% were mechanically ventilated and ICU mortality was 7.8%. ICU length-of-stay was 3.4(5.1) (median 1.8, range (0.17-60)) days and demonstrated marked kurtosis and right skew (29.4 and 4.4 respectively). BIC showed considerable spread, from a maximum of 509801 (OLS-raw scale) to a minimum of 210286 (LMM). R2 ranged from 0.22 (LMM) to 0.17 and the CCC from 0.334 (LMM) to 0.149, with MAE 2.2-2.4. Superior residual behaviour was established for the log-scale estimators. There was a general tendency for over-prediction (negative residuals) and for over-fitting, the exception being the GLM negative binomial estimator. The mean-variance function was best approximated by a quadratic function, consistent with log-scale estimation; the link function was estimated (EEE) as 0.152(0.019, 0.285), consistent with a fractional-root function.


For ICU length of stay, log-scale estimation, in particular the LMM, appeared to be the most consistently performing estimator(s). Neither the GLM variants nor the skew-regression estimators dominated.