Appraisal of: Thompson G, Zhelev Z, Hunt H, Hyde C. It was not easy to identify the study design from the title and abstract of articles indexed as diagnostic (test) accuracy studies in EMBASE in 2012 and 2019. J Clin Epidemiol. 2021;144:102-110.
Thompson G, Zhelev Z, Hunt H, Hyde C. It was not easy to identify the study design from the title and abstract of articles indexed as diagnostic (test) accuracy studies in EMBASE in 2012 and 2019. J Clin Epidemiol. 2021;144:102-110.
The authors suggest that the current use of imprecise language/indirect indicators for the study design in the titles and abstracts of diagnostic test accuracy (DTA) studies underscores the need for a universally accepted shorthand descriptor to quickly alert readers to the study design, much like “randomised controlled trial” does for effectiveness research. To assist in the creation of this shorthand, the aim of this exploratory study is to quantify the current use of study design shorthand descriptions.
The authors searched Embase for DTA studies published in either 2012 and 2019 using “diagnostic accuracy” and “diagnostic test accuracy” indexing terms. From the results, the authors generated a random sample of 401 articles, of which 299 met their inclusion criteria. An additional 21 randomly selected articles were identified to “top up” the sample for a total of 320 studies. The authors were blinded to the year of publication for the initial 299 studies but not for the “top up” articles. Findings include a modest increase in shorthand descriptors for study design between the two time points (11% in 2012 to 14% in 2019). In both 2012 and 2019 publications, the term “accuracy” was present (58% in 2012 versus 74% in 2019), however it was only used to describe either the purpose or study design in 49% of those abstracts.
Another noteworthy finding in the context of information retrieval is that of the 401 initially randomly generated sample of studies indexed with the two search terms, 94 were either not primary studies or do not meet the criteria of DTA studies as defined by STARD guidelines.
Limitations stated by the author(s):
The authors acknowledge that this is an exploratory study and ideally would be replicated in other bibliographic databases with more robust search methods. Searching was limited to Embase and used controlled vocabulary/indexing terms to “pre-select” studies. It is likely studies lacking those indexing terms may have been missed, resulting in selection bias. Due to resource constraints the analysis only focused on titles and abstracts and did not look at the consistency or compare the shorthand descriptors used in both a study’s abstract and full text.
Limitations stated by the reviewer(s):
As the authors have noted, the studies reviewed were those that were indexed with an appropriate EMTREE heading. The study does not provide information on how DTA studies without those indexing terms would best be retrieved.
diagnostic test accuracy studies