Referral bias in ALS epidemiological studies


Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Despite concerns about the representativeness of patients from ALS tertiary centers as compared to the ALS general population, the extent of referral bias in clinical studies remains largely unknown. Using data from EURALS consortium we aimed to assess nature, extent and impact of referral bias.

METHODS: Four European ALS population-based registries located in Ireland, Piedmont, Puglia, Italy, and Limousin, France, covering 50 million person-years, participated. Demographic and clinic characteristics of ALS patients diagnosed in tertiary referral centers were contrasted with the whole ALS populations enrolled in registries in the same geographical areas.

RESULTS: Patients referred to ALS centers were younger (with difference ranging from 1.1 years to 2.4 years), less likely to present a bulbar onset, with a higher proportion of familial antecedents and a longer survival (ranging from 11% to 15%) when compared to the entire ALS population in the same geographic area.

CONCLUSIONS: A trend for referral bias is present in cohorts drawn from ALS referral centers. The magnitude of the possible referral bias in a particular tertiary center can be estimated through a comparison with ALS patients drawn from registry in the same geographic area. Studies based on clinical cohorts should be cautiously interpreted. The presence of a registry in the same area may improve the complete ascertainment in the referral center.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0195821
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis/diagnosis
  • Bias
  • Delayed Diagnosis
  • Europe/epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health Surveillance
  • Referral and Consultation/statistics & numerical data
  • Registries
  • Tertiary Care Centers


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