Objectives To explain methods for data synthesis of evidence from diagnostic test accuracy (DTA) studies, and to illustrate different types of analyses that may be performed in a DTA systematic review.
Methods We described properties of meta-analytic methods for quantitative synthesis of evidence. We used a DTA review comparing the accuracy of three screening questionnaires for bipolar disorder to illustrate application of the methods for each type of analysis.
Results The discriminatory ability of a test is commonly expressed in terms of sensitivity (proportion of those with the condition who test positive) and specificity (proportion of those without the condition who test negative). There is a trade-off between sensitivity and specificity, as an increasing threshold for defining test positivity will decrease sensitivity and increase specificity. Methods recommended for meta-analysis of DTA studies --such as the bivariate or hierarchical summary receiver operating characteristic (HSROC) model --jointly summarise sensitivity and specificity while taking into account this threshold effect, as well as allowing for between study differences in test performance beyond what would be expected by chance. The bivariate model focuses on estimation of a summary sensitivity and specificity at a common threshold while the HSROC model focuses on the estimation of a summary curve from studies that have used different thresholds.
Conclusions Meta-analyses of diagnostic accuracy studies can provide answers to important clinical questions. We hope this article will provide clinicians with sufficient understanding of the terminology and methods to aid interpretation of systematic reviews and facilitate better patient care.
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