BACKGROUND: Network meta-analysis (NMA) simultaneously synthesises direct and indirect evidence on the relative efficacy and safety of at least three treatments. A decision maker may use the coherent results of an NMA to determine which treatment is best for a given outcome. However, this evidence must be balanced across multiple outcomes. This study aims to provide a framework that permits the objective integration of the comparative effectiveness and safety of treatments across multiple outcomes.
METHODS: In the proposed framework, measures of each treatment's performance are plotted on its own pie chart, superimposed on another pie chart representing the performance of a hypothetical treatment that is the best across all outcomes. This creates a spie chart for each treatment, where the coverage area represents the probability a treatment ranks best overall. The angles of each sector may be adjusted to reflect the importance of each outcome to a decision maker. The framework is illustrated using two published NMA datasets comparing dietary oils and fats and psoriasis treatments. Outcome measures are plotted in terms of the surface under the cumulative ranking curve. The use of the spie chart was contrasted with that of the radar plot.
RESULTS: In the NMA comparing the effects of dietary oils and fats on four lipid biomarkers, the ease of incorporating the lipids' relative importance on spie charts was demonstrated using coefficients from a published risk prediction model on coronary heart disease. Radar plots produced two sets of areas based on the ordering of the lipids on the axes, while the spie chart only produced one set. In the NMA comparing psoriasis treatments, the areas inside spie charts containing both efficacy and safety outcomes masked critical information on the treatments' comparative safety. Plotting the areas inside spie charts of the efficacy outcomes against measures of the safety outcome facilitated simultaneous comparisons of the treatments' benefits and harms.
CONCLUSIONS: The spie chart is more optimal than a radar plot for integrating the comparative effectiveness or safety of a treatment across multiple outcomes. Formal validation in the decision-making context, along with statistical comparisons with other recent approaches are required.