Bayesian bivariate meta-analysis of diagnostic test studies with interpretable priors

Jingyi Guo*, Andrea Riebler, Haavard Rue

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


In a bivariate meta-analysis, the number of diagnostic studies involved is often very low so that frequentist methods may result in problems. Using Bayesian inference is particularly attractive as informative priors that add a small amount of information can stabilise the analysis without overwhelming the data. However, Bayesian analysis is often computationally demanding and the selection of the prior for the covariance matrix of the bivariate structure is crucial with little data. The integrated nested Laplace approximations method provides an efficient solution to the computational issues by avoiding any sampling, but the important question of priors remain. We explore the penalised complexity (PC) prior framework for specifying informative priors for the variance parameters and the correlation parameter. PC priors facilitate model interpretation and hyperparameter specification as expert knowledge can be incorporated intuitively. We conduct a simulation study to compare the properties and behaviour of differently defined PC priors to currently used priors in the field. The simulation study shows that the PC prior seems beneficial for the variance parameters. The use of PC priors for the correlation parameter results in more precise estimates when specified in a sensible neighbourhood around the truth. To investigate the usage of PC priors in practice, we reanalyse a meta-analysis using the telomerase marker for the diagnosis of bladder cancer and compare the results with those obtained by other commonly used modelling approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3039-3058
Number of pages20
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number19
StatePublished - Aug 30 2017


  • bivariate random effects model
  • diagnostic meta-analysis
  • integrated nested Laplace approximation (INLA)
  • penalised complexity priors
  • prior distributions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Statistics and Probability

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