Comparison of six statistical methods for interrupted time series studies: empirical evaluation of 190 published series

Simon L. Turner, Amalia Karahalios, Andrew B. Forbes, Monica Taljaard, Jeremy M. Grimshaw, Joanne E. McKenzie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: The Interrupted Time Series (ITS) is a quasi-experimental design commonly used in public health to evaluate the impact of interventions or exposures. Multiple statistical methods are available to analyse data from ITS studies, but no empirical investigation has examined how the different methods compare when applied to real-world datasets. METHODS: A random sample of 200 ITS studies identified in a previous methods review were included. Time series data from each of these studies was sought. Each dataset was re-analysed using six statistical methods. Point and confidence interval estimates for level and slope changes, standard errors, p-values and estimates of autocorrelation were compared between methods. RESULTS: From the 200 ITS studies, including 230 time series, 190 datasets were obtained. We found that the choice of statistical method can importantly affect the level and slope change point estimates, their standard errors, width of confidence intervals and p-values. Statistical significance (categorised at the 5% level) often differed across the pairwise comparisons of methods, ranging from 4 to 25% disagreement. Estimates of autocorrelation differed depending on the method used and the length of the series. CONCLUSIONS: The choice of statistical method in ITS studies can lead to substantially different conclusions about the impact of the interruption. Pre-specification of the statistical method is encouraged, and naive conclusions based on statistical significance should be avoided.

Original languageEnglish
Article number134
Number of pages19
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2021


  • Autocorrelation
  • Empirical study
  • Interrupted Time Series
  • Public Health
  • Segmented Regression
  • Statistical Methods

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