Background: The reporting interval is the bin size used to report numerical pathology results and must be determined for every analyte. The influence of the size of the reporting interval on the critical difference (CD) between two results from the same patient has not been addressed previously.
Methods: The effect of changing the reporting-interval size (RIS) on CDs was modeled by use of a spreadsheet application. The findings were applied to data on CDs with analytical precision values from our laboratory.
Results: As the RIS increases relative to the combined analytical and within-person biological variation, there is an approximately linear increase in the CD from the value determined by use of published techniques. The revised estimate is as follows: CD = 2(1/2) x z x (SDa(2) + SDi(2))(1/2) + 1.5 x RIS, where CD, SD, and RIS are all in the same units. This effect is seen for any probability associated with the critical difference and for both uni- and bidirectional changes.
Conclusions: The choice of reporting interval should be made in the light of assay requirements. Where there is a clinical need for detection of small changes in analyte concentration, the reporting interval should be kept small relative to the combined variation attributable to assay precision and within-person biological variation.