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Reappraisal of ventilator-free days in critical care research

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine October 1, 2019

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PAIR Center Research Team


Ventilator-free days (VFDs) are a commonly reported composite outcome measure in acute respiratory distress syndrome trials. VFDs combine survival and duration of ventilation in a manner that summarizes the “net effect” of an intervention on these two outcomes. However, this combining of outcome measures makes VFDs difficult to understand and analyze, which contributes to imprecise interpretations. We discuss the strengths and limitations of VFDs and other “failure-free day” composites, and we provide a framework for when and how to use these outcome measures. We also provide a comprehensive discussion of the different analytic methods for analyzing and interpreting VFDs, including Student’s t tests and rank-sum tests, as well as competing risk regressions treating extubation as the primary outcome and death as the competing risk. Using simulations, we illustrate how the statistical test with optimal power depends on the relative contributions of mortality and ventilator duration on the composite effect size. Finally, we recommend a simple analysis and reporting framework using the competing risk approach, which provides clear information on the effect size of an intervention, a statistical test and measure of confidence with the ability to adjust for baseline factors and allow interim monitoring for trials. We emphasize that any approach to analyzing a composite outcome, including other “failure-free day” constructs, should also be accompanied by an examination of the components.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)