Background: In the era of evidence based medicine, with systematic reviews as its cornerstone, adequate quality assessment tools should be available. There is currently a lack of a systematically developed and evaluated tool for the assessment of diagnostic accuracy studies. The aim of this project was to combine empirical evidence and expert opinion in a formal consensus method to develop a tool to be used in systematic reviews to assess the quality of primary studies of diagnostic accuracy.
Methods: We conducted a Delphi procedure to develop the quality assessment tool by refining an initial list of items. Members of the Delphi panel were experts in the area of diagnostic research. The results of three previously conducted reviews of the diagnostic literature were used to generate a list of potential items for inclusion in the tool and to provide an evidence base upon which to develop the tool.
Results: A total of nine experts in the field of diagnostics took part in the Delphi procedure. The Delphi procedure consisted of four rounds, after which agreement was reached on the items to be included in the tool which we have called QUADAS. The initial list of 28 items was reduced to fourteen items in the final tool. Items included covered patient spectrum, reference standard, disease progression bias, verification bias, review bias, clinical review bias, incorporation bias, test execution, study withdrawals, and indeterminate results. The QUADAS tool is presented together with guidelines for scoring each of the items included in the tool.
Conclusions: This project has produced an evidence based quality assessment tool to be used in systematic reviews of diagnostic accuracy studies. Further work to determine the usability and validity of the tool continues.