Diagnostic methods I: sensitivity, specificity, and other measures of accuracy

Kidney Int. 2009 Jun;75(12):1257-1263. doi: 10.1038/ki.2009.92. Epub 2009 Apr 1.


For most physicians, use of diagnostic tests is part of daily routine. This paper focuses on their usefulness by explaining the different measures of accuracy, the interpretation of test results, and the implementation of a diagnostic strategy. Measures of accuracy include sensitivity and specificity. Although these measures are often considered fixed properties of a diagnostic test, in reality they are subject to multiple sources of variation such as the population case mix and the severity of the disease under study. Furthermore, when evaluating a new diagnostic test, it must be compared to a reference standard, although the latter is usually not perfect. In daily practice diagnostic tests are not used in isolation. Several issues will influence the interpretation of their results. First, clinicians have a prior assumption about the patient's chances of having the disease under investigation, based on the patient's characteristics, symptoms, and the disease prevalence in similar populations. Second, diagnostic tests are usually part of a diagnostic strategy. Therefore, it is not sufficient to determine the accuracy of a single test; one also needs to determine its additional value to the patient's diagnosis, treatment, or outcome as part of a diagnostic strategy.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Albuminuria / diagnosis
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Bias
  • Diagnosis-Related Groups
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / standards
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Reference Standards
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity