Objectives: Empirical evaluations have demonstrated that diagnostic accuracy frequently shows significant heterogeneity between subgroups of patients within a study. We propose to use Cochran's Q test to assess heterogeneity in diagnostic likelihood ratios (LRs).
Study design and setting: We reanalyzed published data of six articles that showed within-study heterogeneity in diagnostic accuracy. We used the Q test to assess heterogeneity in LRs and compared the results of the Q test with those obtained using another method for stratified analysis of LRs, based on subgroup confidence intervals. We also studied the behavior of the Q test using hypothetical data.
Results: The Q test detected significant heterogeneity in LRs in all six example data sets. The Q test detected significant heterogeneity in LRs more frequently than the confidence interval approach (38% vs. 20%). When applied to hypothetical data, the Q test would be able to detect relatively small variations in LRs, of about a twofold increase, in a study including 300 participants.
Conclusion: Reanalysis of published data using the Q test can be easily performed to assess heterogeneity in diagnostic LRs between subgroups of patients, potentially providing important information to clinicians who base their decisions on published LRs.
Keywords: Bayes theorem; Data interpretation, statistical; Diagnostic techniques and procedures/statistics and numerical data; Likelihood functions; Predictive value of tests; Sensitivity and specificity.
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