Chapter

Introduction to epidemiological study designs

Tamsin Ford

in Practical Psychiatric Epidemiology

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780198515517
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754289 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/med/9780198515517.003.0005
Introduction to epidemiological study designs

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Epidemiologists must have a sound understanding of the principles of study design. Ethical considerations naturally prevent us from allocating potentially harmful exposures on an experimental basis in human populations. Observational studies are inherently more vulnerable to the effect of bias and confounding. However, these problems can be minimized by good study design.

The design (and analysis) of a study aspires to maximize the precision and validity of its findings. The precision of an estimate of the prevalence of depression in a population will be reduced by sampling and measurement error. These errors are generally random, that is equally likely to deviate from the truth in either direction. Precision can be improved with larger sample sizes and more accurate measures. Confounding and bias lead to non-random error; that is the effect of the bias or confounder is systematic, tending mainly in one direction, thus reducing the validity of a finding. Choices of study design and measurement strategy are key factors in minimizing non-random error and maximizing the validity of the results.

Although the conduct and analysis of epidemiological studies has become increasing sophisticated over time, there are a limited number of basic designs, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. This chapter will provide an overview of study design, illustrated with examples from psychiatric epidemiological studies, while individual types of study will be discussed in greater depth in subsequent chapters.

Chapter.  4090 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychiatry ; Public Health and Epidemiology ; Epidemiology

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