Noninterventional studies in the COVID-19 era: methodological considerations for study design and analysis

Anne M. Butler, Mehmet Burcu, Jennifer B. Christian, Fang Tian, Kathleen M. Andersen, William A. Blumentals, Karen E. Joynt Maddox, G. Caleb Alexander

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The global COVID-19 pandemic has generated enormous morbidity and mortality, as well as large health system disruptions including changes in use of prescription medications, outpatient encounters, emergency department admissions, and hospitalizations. These pandemic-related disruptions are reflected in real-world data derived from electronic medical records, administrative claims, disease or medication registries, and mobile devices. We discuss how pandemic-related disruptions in healthcare utilization may impact the conduct of noninterventional studies designed to characterize the utilization and estimate the effects of medical interventions on health-related outcomes. Using hypothetical studies, we highlight consequences that the pandemic may have on study design elements including participant selection and ascertainment of exposures, outcomes, and covariates. We discuss the implications of these pandemic-related disruptions on possible threats to external validity (participant selection) and internal validity (for example, confounding, selection bias, missing data bias). These concerns may be amplified in populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, such as racial/ethnic minorities, rural residents, or people experiencing poverty. We propose a general framework for researchers to carefully consider during the design and analysis of noninterventional studies that use real-world data from the COVID-19 era.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-101
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
StatePublished - Jan 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Data analysis
  • Methodology
  • Real-world data
  • Real-world evidence
  • Study design


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