Two new approaches for the visualisation of models for network meta-analysis

Martin Law*, Navid Alam, Areti Angeliki Veroniki, Yi Yu, Dan Jackson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
330 Downloads (Pure)



Meta-analysis is a useful tool for combining evidence from multiple studies to estimate a pooled treatment effect. An extension of meta-analysis, network meta-analysis, is becoming more commonly used as a way to simultaneously compare multiple treatments in a single analysis. Despite the variety of approaches available for presenting fitted models, ascertaining an intuitive understanding of these models is often difficult. This is especially challenging in large networks with many different treatments. Here we propose two visualisation methods, so that network meta-analysis models can be more easily interpreted.


Our methods can be used irrespective of the statistical model or the estimation method used and are grounded in network analysis. We define three types of distance measures between the treatments that contribute to the network. These three distance measures are based on 1) the estimated treatment effects, 2) their standard errors and 3) the corresponding p-values. Then, by using a suitable threshold, we categorise some treatment pairs as being “close” (short distances). Treatments that are close are regarded as “connected” in the network analysis theory. Finally, we group the treatments into communities using standard methods for network analysis. We are then able to identify which parts of the network are estimated to have similar (or different) treatment efficacy and which parts of the network are better identified. We also propose a second method using parametric bootstrapping, where a heat map is used in the visualisation. We use the software R and provide the code used.


We illustrate our new methods using a challenging dataset containing 22 treatments, and a previously fitted model for this data. Two communities of treatments that appear to have similar efficacy are identified. Furthermore using our methods we can identify parts of the network that are better (and less well) identified.


Our new visualisation approaches may be used by network meta-analysts to gain an intuitive understanding of the implications of their fitted models. Our visualisation methods may be used informally, to identify the most salient features of the fitted models that can then be reported, or more formally by presenting the new visualisation devices within published reports.
Original languageEnglish
Article number61
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Medical Research Methodology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2019


  • Network meta-analysis
  • Network analysis
  • Visualisation


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