Meta-analysis of diagnostic tests with imperfect reference standards

J Clin Epidemiol. 1999 Oct;52(10):943-51. doi: 10.1016/s0895-4356(99)00086-4.


We present a method to estimate the summary receiver operating characteristic (SROC) curve for combining information on a diagnostic test from several different studies. Unlike previous methods that assume the reference standard to be error free, our approach allows for the possibility of errors in the reference standard, through use of a latent class model. The model provides estimates of the sensitivity and specificity of the diagnostic test and the case prevalence in each study; these parameters can then be used in a meta-analysis, for example, using the regression method proposed by Moses et al., of a measure of test discrimination on a measure of the diagnostic threshold, to fit the SROC. The method is illustrated with an example on Pap smears that shows how adjusting for imperfection in the reference standard typically reduces the scatter of data in the SROC plot, and tends to indicate better performance of the test than otherwise.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Bias
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Papanicolaou Test*
  • ROC Curve*
  • Reference Standards
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Vaginal Smears / standards*