Comparison of small-sample standard-error corrections for generalised estimating equations in stepped wedge cluster randomised trials with a binary outcome: A simulation study

J. A. Thompson, K. Hemming, A. Forbes, K. Fielding, R. Hayes

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27 Citations (Scopus)


Generalised estimating equations with the sandwich standard-error estimator provide a promising method of analysis for stepped wedge cluster randomised trials. However, they have inflated type-one error when used with a small number of clusters, which is common for stepped wedge cluster randomised trials. We present a large simulation study of binary outcomes comparing bias-corrected standard errors from Fay and Graubard; Mancl and DeRouen; Kauermann and Carroll; Morel, Bokossa, and Neerchal; and Mackinnon and White with an independent and exchangeable working correlation matrix. We constructed 95% confidence intervals using a t-distribution with degrees of freedom including clusters minus parameters (DFC-P), cluster periods minus parameters, and estimators from Fay and Graubard (DFFG), and Pan and Wall. Fay and Graubard and an approximation to Kauermann and Carroll (with simpler matrix inversion) were unbiased in a wide range of scenarios with an independent working correlation matrix and more than 12 clusters. They gave confidence intervals with close to 95% coverage with DFFG with 12 or more clusters, and DFC-P with 18 or more clusters. Both standard errors were conservative with fewer clusters. With an exchangeable working correlation matrix, approximated Kauermann and Carroll and Fay and Graubard had a small degree of under-coverage.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalStatistical Methods in Medical Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • correlated data
  • degrees of freedom
  • generalised estimating equations
  • sandwich variance
  • small sample corrections
  • Stepped wedge cluster randomised trials

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