Evaluation of diagnostic tests with multiple diagnostic categories

J Clin Epidemiol. 1988;41(5):491-4. doi: 10.1016/0895-4356(88)90051-0.


The evaluation of diagnostic tests attempts to obtain one or more statistical parameters which can indicate the intrinsic diagnostic utility of a test. Sensitivity, specificity and predictive value are not appropriate for this use. The likelihood ratio has been proposed as a useful measure when using a test to diagnose one of two disease states (e.g. disease present or absent). In this paper, we generalize the likelihood ratio concept to a situation in which the goal is to diagnose one of several non-overlapping disease states. A formula is derived to determine the post-test probability of a specific disease state. The post-test odds are shown to be related to the pre-test odds of a disease and to the usual likelihood ratios derived from considering the diagnosis between the target diagnosis and each alternate in turn. Hence, likelihood ratios derived from comparing pairs of diseases can be used to determine test utility in a multiple disease diagnostic situation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Predictive Value of Tests*
  • Research Design