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Developing and validating risk prediction models in an individual participant data meta-analysis

Ikhlaaq Ahmed1, Thomas PA Debray2, Karel GM Moons2 and Richard D Riley3*

Author Affiliations

1 Midlands Hub for Trials Methodology Research, School of Health and Population Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

2 Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

3 School of Health and Population Sciences, Public Health Building, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2014, 14:3  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-3

Published: 8 January 2014



Risk prediction models estimate the risk of developing future outcomes for individuals based on one or more underlying characteristics (predictors). We review how researchers develop and validate risk prediction models within an individual participant data (IPD) meta-analysis, in order to assess the feasibility and conduct of the approach.


A qualitative review of the aims, methodology, and reporting in 15 articles that developed a risk prediction model using IPD from multiple studies.


The IPD approach offers many opportunities but methodological challenges exist, including: unavailability of requested IPD, missing patient data and predictors, and between-study heterogeneity in methods of measurement, outcome definitions and predictor effects. Most articles develop their model using IPD from all available studies and perform only an internal validation (on the same set of data). Ten of the 15 articles did not allow for any study differences in baseline risk (intercepts), potentially limiting their model’s applicability and performance in some populations. Only two articles used external validation (on different data), including a novel method which develops the model on all but one of the IPD studies, tests performance in the excluded study, and repeats by rotating the omitted study.


An IPD meta-analysis offers unique opportunities for risk prediction research. Researchers can make more of this by allowing separate model intercept terms for each study (population) to improve generalisability, and by using ‘internal-external cross-validation’ to simultaneously develop and validate their model. Methodological challenges can be reduced by prospectively planned collaborations that share IPD for risk prediction.

Meta-analysis; Prognostic factor; Prognosis; Individual participant (patient) data; Review; Reporting