Comparison of random forest and parametric imputation models for imputing missing data using MICE: a CALIBER study

Anoop D Shah, Jonathan W Bartlett, James Carpenter, Owen Nicholas, Harry Hemingway

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400 Citations (SciVal)


Multivariate imputation by chained equations (MICE) is commonly used for imputing missing data in epidemiologic research. The "true" imputation model may contain nonlinearities which are not included in default imputation models. Random forest imputation is a machine learning technique which can accommodate nonlinearities and interactions and does not require a particular regression model to be specified. We compared parametric MICE with a random forest-based MICE algorithm in 2 simulation studies. The first study used 1,000 random samples of 2,000 persons drawn from the 10,128 stable angina patients in the CALIBER database (Cardiovascular Disease Research using Linked Bespoke Studies and Electronic Records; 2001-2010) with complete data on all covariates. Variables were artificially made "missing at random," and the bias and efficiency of parameter estimates obtained using different imputation methods were compared. Both MICE methods produced unbiased estimates of (log) hazard ratios, but random forest was more efficient and produced narrower confidence intervals. The second study used simulated data in which the partially observed variable depended on the fully observed variables in a nonlinear way. Parameter estimates were less biased using random forest MICE, and confidence interval coverage was better. This suggests that random forest imputation may be useful for imputing complex epidemiologic data sets in which some patients have missing data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)764-74
Number of pages11
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number6
Early online date12 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2014


  • Age Factors
  • Angina, Stable/epidemiology
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Bias
  • Computer Simulation
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Random Allocation
  • Sex Factors


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