Characterization of Overlap in Observational Studies

07/09/2019 ∙ by Fredrik D. Johansson, et al. ∙ 5

Overlap between treatment groups is required for nonparametric estimation of causal effects. If a subgroup of subjects always receives (or never receives) a given intervention, we cannot estimate the effect of intervention changes on that subgroup without further assumptions. When overlap does not hold globally, characterizing local regions of overlap can inform the relevance of any causal conclusions for new subjects, and can help guide additional data collection. To have impact, these descriptions must be interpretable for downstream users who are not machine learning experts, such as clinicians. We formalize overlap estimation as a problem of finding minimum volume sets and give a method to solve it by reduction to binary classification with Boolean rules. We also generalize our method to estimate overlap in off-policy policy evaluation. Using data from real-world applications, we demonstrate that these rules have comparable accuracy to black-box estimators while maintaining a simple description. In one case study, we perform a user study with clinicians to evaluate rules learned to describe treatment group overlap in post-surgical opioid prescriptions. In another, we estimate overlap in policy evaluation of antibiotic prescription for urinary tract infections.

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