Real-world evidence: the devil is in the detail.

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Much has been written about real-world evidence (RWE), a concept that offers an understanding of the effects of healthcare interventions using routine clinical data. The reflection of diverse real-world practices is a double-edged sword that makes RWE attractive but also opens doors to several biases that need to be minimised both in the design and analytical phases of non-experimental studies. Additionally, it is critical to ensure that researchers who conduct these studies possess adequate methodological expertise and ability to accurately implement these methods. Critical design elements to be considered should include a clearly defined research question using a causal inference framework, choice of a fit-for-purpose data source, inclusion of new users of a treatment with comparators that are as similar as possible to that group, accurately classifying person-time and deciding censoring approaches. Having taken measures to minimise bias 'by design', the next step is to implement appropriate analytical techniques (for example propensity scores) to minimise the remnant potential biases. A clear protocol should be provided at the beginning of the study and a report of the results after, including caveats to consider. We also point the readers to readings on some novel analytical methods as well as newer areas of application of RWE. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to evaluating RWE studies, we have focused our discussion on key methods and issues commonly encountered in comparative observational cohort studies with the hope that readers are better equipped to evaluate non-experimental studies that they encounter in the future. Graphical abstract.


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