Revised Estimates of Diagnostic Test Sensitivity and Specificity in Suspected Biliary Tract Disease

Published in: Archives of Internal Medicine, v. 154, Nov. 28, 1994, p. 2573-2581

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1994

by Judy A. Shea, Jesse A. Berlin, Jose J. Escarce, John R. Clark, Bruce P. Kinosian, Michael D. Cabana, Wendy W. Tsai, Nicholas Horangic, Peter F. Malet, J. Sanford Schwartz, et al.

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The purpose of this study was to estimate the sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic tests for gallstones and acute cholecystitis. All English-language articles published from 1966 through 1992 about tests used in the diagnosis of biliary tract disease were identified through MEDLINE. From 1614 titles, 666 abstracts were examined and 322 articles were read to identify 61 articles with information about sensitivity and specificity. Application of exclusion criteria based on clinical and methodologic criteria left 30 articles for analysis. Cluster-sampling methods were adapted to obtain combined estimates of sensitivities and specificities. Adjustments were made to estimates that were biased because the gold standard was applied preferentially to patients with positive test results. The authors conclude that ultrasound is superior to oral cholecystogram for diagnosing cholelithiasis, and radionuclide scanning is the test of choice for acute cholecystitis. However, sensitivities and specificities are somewhat lower than commonly reported. They recommend estimates that are midway between the adjusted and unadjusted values.

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