Intra- and Intersubspecialty Variability in Lumbar Spine MRI Interpretation: A Multireader Study Comparing Musculoskeletal Radiologists and Neuroradiologists

Curr Probl Diagn Radiol. 2020 May-Jun;49(3):182-187. doi: 10.1067/j.cpradiol.2019.05.003. Epub 2019 May 9.


Background and purpose: The purpose of this study is to assess the differences in degenerative spine MRI reporting between subspecialty-trained attending neuroradiologists and musculoskeletal radiologists (MSK) at a single institution, academic medical center.

Materials and methods: Fifty consecutive outpatient noncontrast lumbar spine examinations were selected from the Picture Archiving and Communication System. Three MSK and 3 neuroradiologists (NR) independently reviewed and interpreted the exams at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels in the same manner as in clinical practice. The assessment of neural foraminal stenosis (NFS) and spinal canal stenosis (SCS) was converted to a 5-point ordinal scale. The assessment of lateral recess stenosis (LRS) and facet osteoarthritis (FO) was recorded as present/absent. Intersubspecialty and intrasubspecialty analysis was performed using Cohen's kappa coefficient with a binary matrix of all reader pairs.

Results: There was moderate intersubspecialty agreement (k = 0.527) for NFS and SCS (k = 0.540). Intersubspecialty agreement was slight for LRS (k = 0.0818) and FO (k = 0.176). The MSK group demonstrated greater intrasubspecialty agreement in assessment of NFS and SCS compared to the NR group, with nonoverlapping confidence intervals. The NR group demonstrated greater nominal intrasubspecialty agreement in the assessment of both LRS and FO, although with nonoverlapping confidence intervals.

Conclusion: There is moderate intersubspecialty agreement between MSK radiologists and neuroradiologists in reporting the severity of NFS and SCS, although MSK radiologists demonstrated greater intrasubspecialty agreement. There is slight intersubspecialty agreement for LRS and FO. The demonstration of differences in inter-reader agreement is a crucial first step to attempt to ameliorate these variabilities.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Observer Variation
  • Radiologists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Radiology Information Systems
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Stenosis / diagnostic imaging*