Bayesian calibration of microsimulation models

Carolyn M. Rutter, Diana L Miglioretti, James E. Savarino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Microsimulation models that describe disease processes synthesize information from multiple sources and can be used to estimate the effects of screening and treatment on cancer incidence and mortality at a population level. These models are characterized by simulation of individual event histories for an idealized population of interest. Microsimulation models are complex and invariably include parameters that are not well informed by existing data. Therefore,akey component of model development is the choice of parameter values. Microsimulation model parameter values are selected to reproduce expected or known results though the process of model calibration. Calibration may be done by perturbing model parameters one at a time or by using a search algorithm. As an alternative, we propose a Bayesian method to calibrate microsimulation models that uses Markov chain Monte Carlo. We show that this approach converges to the target distribution and use a simulation study to demonstrate its finite - sample performance. Although computationally intensive, this approach has several advantages over previously proposed methods, including the use of statistical criteria to select parameter values, simultaneous calibration of multiple parameters to multiple data sources, incorporation of information via prior distributions, description of parameter identifiability, and the ability to obtain interval estimates of model parameters. We develop a microsimulation model for colorectal cancer and use our proposed method to calibrate model parameters. The microsimulation model provides a good fit to the calibration data. We find evidence that some parameters are identified primarily through prior distributions. Our results underscore the need to incorporate multiple sources of variability (i.e., due to calibration data, unknown parameters, and estimated parameters and predicted values) when calibrating and applying microsimulation models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1338-1350
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of the American Statistical Association
Issue number488
StatePublished - Dec 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Colorectal cancer
  • Identifiability
  • Markov chain Monte Carlo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Statistics, Probability and Uncertainty


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