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Cross-classified multilevel models (CCMM) in health research: A systematic review of published empirical studies and recommendations for best practices

PMCID: PMC7490849 (free full text version available)

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Kathryn M. Barker, Erin C. Dunn, Tracy K. Richmond, Sarah Ahmed, Matthew Hawrilenko, Clare R. Evans,

Recognizing that health outcomes are influenced by and occur within multiple social and physical contexts, researchers have used multilevel modeling techniques for decades to analyze hierarchical or nested data. Cross-Classified Multilevel Models (CCMM) are a statistical technique proposed in the 1990s that extend standard multilevel modeling and enable the simultaneous analysis of non-nested multilevel data. Though use of CCMM in empirical health studies has become increasingly popular, there has not yet been a review summarizing how CCMM are used in the health literature. To address this gap, we performed a scoping review of empirical health studies using CCMM to: (a) evaluate the extent to which this statistical approach has been adopted; (b) assess the rationale and procedures for using CCMM; and (c) provide concrete recommendations for the future use of CCMM. We identified 118 CCMM papers published in English-language literature between 1994 and 2018. Our results reveal a steady growth in empirical health studies using CCMM to address a wide variety of health outcomes in clustered non-hierarchical data. Health researchers use CCMM primarily for five reasons: (1) to statistically account for non-independence in clustered data structures; out of substantive interest in the variance explained by (2) concurrent contexts, (3) contexts over time, and (4) age-period-cohort effects; and (5) to apply CCMM alongside other techniques within a joint model. We conclude by proposing a set of recommendations for use of CCMM with the aim of improved clarity and standardization of reporting in future research using this statistical approach.

SSM Popul Health (SSM - population health)
[2020, 12:]

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