Evidence Assessment of the Accuracy of Methods of Diagnosing Middle Ear Effusion in Children with Otitis Media with Effusion

Published in: Pediatrics, v. 112, no. 6, Dec. 1, 2003, p. 1379-1387

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2002

by Glenn S. Takata, Linda S. Chan, Tricia Morphew, Rita Mangione-Smith, Sally C. Morton, Paul G. Shekelle

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OBJECTIVES: The authors report the findings of an evidence assessment on the accuracy of methods of diagnosing middle ear effusion in children with otitis media with effusion (OME). METHODS: The authors searched Medline (1966-January 2000), the Cochrane Library (through January 2000), and Embase (1980-January 2000) and identified additional articles from reference lists in proceedings, published articles, reports, and guidelines. Excluded were nonhuman studies; case reports; editorials; letters; reviews; practice guidelines; non-English-language publications; and studies on patients with immunodeficiencies, craniofacial anomalies (including cleft palate), primary mucosal disorders, or genetic conditions. From each eligible study, they calculated the sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, negative predictive value, accuracy, and prevalence of OME in the cohort. The authors determined the number of studies for each comparison of a diagnostic method and a reference standard listed within the scope of our assessment. For comparisons with 3 or more studies, they derived random effects estimates of sensitivity, specificity, and prevalence rate. Using the pooled estimates, the authors plotted the performance of each diagnostic test in terms of sensitivity and (1 - specificity) and identified the best performer among the tests included in the comparison. RESULTS: Among 8 diagnostic methods, pneumatic otoscopy had the best apparent performance with a sensitivity of 94% (95% confidence interval: 92%-96%) and a specificity of 80% (95% confidence interval: 75%-86%). However, examiner qualifications were reported inconsistently, and training was not specified. CONCLUSIONS: The finding that pneumatic otoscopy can do as well as or better than tympanometry and acoustic reflectometry has significant practical implications. For the typical clinician, pneumatic otoscopy should be easier to use than other diagnostic methods. The important question may be what degree of training will be needed for the clinician to be as effective with pneumatic otoscopy as were the examiners in the studies reviewed in this report.

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