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Causal Inference: Emulating a Target Trial to Assess Comparative Effectiveness

June 15, 2020
9:00 a.m. -  5:00 p.m.
1 credit (offered for non-credit/professional development only)
Course Number: 340.888.11


This summer this course will be taught online via Zoom, on the dates and times listed above. Registered students will attend their classes virtually via Zoom, in real time with faculty and other students.

"Professor Dr. Miguel Hernan is an exceptional instructor!  The slides were outstanding, and I appreciate that he shared them with all of us.  He made a consistent and extraordinary effort to ensure that all of us understood before he proceeded onto the next topic.  He truly wants the students to learn, and has a gift for making the most advanced topics accessible and exciting for all of us to learn." - Student 2019

Course Instructor:


The course introduces students to a general framework for the assessment of comparative effectiveness and safety research. The framework, which can be applied to both observational data and randomized trials with imperfect adherence to the protocol, relies on the specification of a (hypothetical) target trial. The course explores key challenges for comparative effectiveness research and critically reviews methods proposed to overcome those challenges. The methods are presented in the context of several case studies for cancer, cardiovascular, renal, and infectious diseases.

Learning Objectives:

  • Formulate sufficiently well-defined causal questions for comparative effectiveness research

  • Specify the protocol of the target trial

  • Design analyses of observational data that emulate the protocol of the target trial

  • Identify key assumptions for a correct emulation of the target trial

  • Decide when g-methods are required for data analysis

  • Critique observational studies and randomized trials for comparative effectiveness research

Special Comments:

Pre-course reading: Chapters 1-3 of the book Hernán MA, Robins JM (2017). Causal Inference. Boca Raton: Chapman & Hall/CRC, forthcoming. The book can be downloaded (for free) from

Location: Baltimore