Open Access Research article

Prediction models for clustered data: comparison of a random intercept and standard regression model

Walter Bouwmeester1*, Jos WR Twisk2, Teus H Kappen3, Wilton A van Klei3, Karel GM Moons1 and Yvonne Vergouwe1

Author Affiliations

1 Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, Str. 6.131, PO Box 85500, Utrecht, GA 3508, The Netherlands

2 Department of Methodology and Applied Biostatistics, Institute of Health Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Department of Perioperative Care and Emergency Medicine, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2013, 13:19  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-19

Published: 15 February 2013



When study data are clustered, standard regression analysis is considered inappropriate and analytical techniques for clustered data need to be used. For prediction research in which the interest of predictor effects is on the patient level, random effect regression models are probably preferred over standard regression analysis. It is well known that the random effect parameter estimates and the standard logistic regression parameter estimates are different. Here, we compared random effect and standard logistic regression models for their ability to provide accurate predictions.


Using an empirical study on 1642 surgical patients at risk of postoperative nausea and vomiting, who were treated by one of 19 anesthesiologists (clusters), we developed prognostic models either with standard or random intercept logistic regression. External validity of these models was assessed in new patients from other anesthesiologists. We supported our results with simulation studies using intra-class correlation coefficients (ICC) of 5%, 15%, or 30%. Standard performance measures and measures adapted for the clustered data structure were estimated.


The model developed with random effect analysis showed better discrimination than the standard approach, if the cluster effects were used for risk prediction (standard c-index of 0.69 versus 0.66). In the external validation set, both models showed similar discrimination (standard c-index 0.68 versus 0.67). The simulation study confirmed these results. For datasets with a high ICC (≥15%), model calibration was only adequate in external subjects, if the used performance measure assumed the same data structure as the model development method: standard calibration measures showed good calibration for the standard developed model, calibration measures adapting the clustered data structure showed good calibration for the prediction model with random intercept.


The models with random intercept discriminate better than the standard model only if the cluster effect is used for predictions. The prediction model with random intercept had good calibration within clusters.

Logistic regression analysis; Prediction model with random intercept; Validation