Blinded reading of radiographs increases the frequency of errors in vertebral fracture detection

J Bone Miner Res. 1996 Nov;11(11):1793-800. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.5650111124.


We examined the effect of blinding X-rays to film sequence and patient identity on vertebral fracture detection. A sample of 50 postmenopausal women with low bone density and two sets of spine X-rays 3.6 years apart was selected; based on prior morphometric studies, about half of the women had experienced new fractures after the initial film. New morphometric and semiquantitative radiologist readings were each performed twice: blinded and unblinded. For morphometry, incident fractures were defined as vertebral height decreases of more than 15% compared with the initial film. The incidence was slightly higher when blinded versus unblinded (5.6 vs. 5.3% of all vertebrae for morphometry, and 9.7 vs. 8.7% for the radiologist), but these differences were not significant. The error rate was investigated by examining the frequency of "fracture reversals"-vertebrae identified as fractured on the initial film but not on the later film. Agreement between blinded and unblinded readings was generally greater than 80% for fractures but less than 10% for "fracture reversals," suggesting that reversals are not true events but random errors. The number of reversals was higher when the radiologist was blinded (2.1% of all vertebrae vs. 0.8% when unblinded; p = 0.07). The number of vertebrae with increases greater than 15% in size over time was also greater when morphometry readings were blinded versus unblinded: 0.8 versus 0% (p < 0.05). Although these errors are small, they are similar in magnitude to the annual fracture incidence in many populations. These data show that blinding X-rays to sequence offers no advantages, increases the frequency of errors, and may inflate incidence rates. We conclude that the assessment of X-rays for vertebral fractures in clinical trials should not be performed with the evaluator blinded to the sequence of the X-rays.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Osteoporosis, Postmenopausal / diagnosis*
  • Prevalence
  • Radiography
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Spinal Fractures / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Fractures / epidemiology