• Understanding diagnostic tests 1: sensitivity, specificity and predictive values

    by Alan Batt. Last modified: 11/12/14

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    Akobeng AK. Understanding diagnostic tests 1: sensitivity, specificity and predictive values. Acta Paediatr. 2007 Mar;96(3):338-41. PMID: 17407452.

    openaccess

     

    Free full text: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1651-2227.2006.00180.x/pdf 

    Abstract

    The usefulness of diagnostic tests, that is their ability to detect a person with disease or exclude a person without disease, is usually described by terms such as sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value. In this article, the first of the series, a simple, practical explanation of these concepts is provided and their use and misuse discussed. It is explained that while sensitivity and specificity are important measures of the diagnostic accuracy of a test, they are of no practical use when it comes to helping the clinician estimate the probability of disease in individual patients. Predictive values may be used to estimate probability of disease but both positive predictive value and negative predictive value vary according to disease prevalence. It would therefore be wrong for predictive values determined for one population to be applied to another population with a different prevalence of disease.

    Sensitivity and specificity are important measures of the diagnostic accuracy of a test but cannot be used to estimate the probability of disease in an individual patient. Positive and negative predictive values provide estimates of probability of disease but both parameters vary according to disease prevalence.

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    Alan Batt

    Alan Batt

    Paramedic, educator, researcher
    Alan is a critical care paramedic, paramedic educator and prehospital researcher, currently working around the world as an educator and researcher. He has previously worked and studied across Europe, North America and the Middle East. He holds a Graduate Certificate in Intensive Care Paramedic Studies, and an MSc in Critical Care. His main interests are in care of the elderly, end-of-life care, patient safety, professionalism (including role and identity), and paramedic education.

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