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Emerg Themes Epidemiol. 2010 May 14;7(1):2. doi: 10.1186/1742-7622-7-2.

Testing bias in clinical databases: methodological considerations.

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  • 1Faculty of Science, Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacotherapy, Utrecht Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.



Laboratory testing in clinical practice is never a random process. In this study we evaluated testing bias for neutrophil counts in clinical practice by using results from requested and non-requested hematological blood tests.


This study was conducted using data from the Utrecht Patient Oriented Database. This clinical database is unique, as it contains physician requested data, but also data that are not requested by the physician, but measured as result of requesting other hematological parameters. We identified adult patients, hospitalized in 2005 with at least two blood tests during admission, where requests for general blood profiles and specifically for neutrophil counts were contrasted in scenario analyses. Possible effect modifiers were diagnosis and glucocorticoid use.


A total of 567 patients with requested neutrophil counts and 1,439 patients with non-requested neutrophil counts were analyzed. The absolute neutrophil count at admission differed with a mean of 7.4 x 109/l for requested counts and 8.3 x 109/l for non-requested counts (p-value < 0.001). This difference could be explained for 83.2% by the occurrence of cardiovascular disease as underlying disease and for 4.5% by glucocorticoid use.


Requests for neutrophil counts in clinical databases are associated with underlying disease and with cardiovascular disease in particular. The results from our study show the importance of evaluating testing bias in epidemiological studies obtaining data from clinical databases.

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