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Phys Ther. 1999 Oct;79(10):939-48.

Interpreting validity indexes for diagnostic tests: an illustration using the Berg balance test.

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  • 1Department of Physical Therapy, Medical College of Virginia Campus, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298-0224, USA.


Physical therapists routinely make diagnostic and prognostic decisions in the course of patient care. The purpose of this clinical perspective is to illustrate what we believe is the optimal method for interpreting the results of studies that describe the diagnostic or prognostic accuracy of examination procedures. To illustrate our points, we chose the Berg Balance Test as an exemplar measure. We combined the data from 2 previously published research reports designed to determine the validity of the Berg Balance Test for predicting risk of falls among elderly people. We calculated the most common validity indexes, including sensitivity, specificity, predictive values, and likelihood ratios for the combined data. Clinical scenarios were used to demonstrate how we believe these validity indexes should be used to guide clinical decisions. We believe therapists should use validity indexes to decrease the uncertainty associated with diagnostic and prognostic decisions. More studies of the accuracy of diagnostic and prognostic tests used by physical therapists are urgently needed.

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