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Open Access Research article

Assessing discriminative ability of risk models in clustered data

David van Klaveren1*, Ewout W Steyerberg1, Pablo Perel2 and Yvonne Vergouwe1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, Dr. Molewaterplein 50, Rotterdam 3015 GE, The Netherlands

2 Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2014, 14:5  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-5

Published: 15 January 2014



The discriminative ability of a risk model is often measured by Harrell’s concordance-index (c-index). The c-index estimates for two randomly chosen subjects the probability that the model predicts a higher risk for the subject with poorer outcome (concordance probability). When data are clustered, as in multicenter data, two types of concordance are distinguished: concordance in subjects from the same cluster (within-cluster concordance probability) and concordance in subjects from different clusters (between-cluster concordance probability). We argue that the within-cluster concordance probability is most relevant when a risk model supports decisions within clusters (e.g. who should be treated in a particular center). We aimed to explore different approaches to estimate the within-cluster concordance probability in clustered data.


We used data of the CRASH trial (2,081 patients clustered in 35 centers) to develop a risk model for mortality after traumatic brain injury. To assess the discriminative ability of the risk model within centers we first calculated cluster-specific c-indexes. We then pooled the cluster-specific c-indexes into a summary estimate with different meta-analytical techniques. We considered fixed effect meta-analysis with different weights (equal; inverse variance; number of subjects, events or pairs) and random effects meta-analysis. We reflected on pooling the estimates on the log-odds scale rather than the probability scale.


The cluster-specific c-index varied substantially across centers (IQR = 0.70-0.81; I2 = 0.76 with 95% confidence interval 0.66 to 0.82). Summary estimates resulting from fixed effect meta-analysis ranged from 0.75 (equal weights) to 0.84 (inverse variance weights). With random effects meta-analysis – accounting for the observed heterogeneity in c-indexes across clusters – we estimated a mean of 0.77, a between-cluster variance of 0.0072 and a 95% prediction interval of 0.60 to 0.95. The normality assumptions for derivation of a prediction interval were better met on the probability than on the log-odds scale.


When assessing the discriminative ability of risk models used to support decisions at cluster level we recommend meta-analysis of cluster-specific c-indexes. Particularly, random effects meta-analysis should be considered.

Clustered data; Concordance; Discrimination; Meta-analysis; Prediction; Risk model