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Clin Chem. 1997 Nov;43(11):2039-46.

Graphical interpretation of analytical data from comparison of a field method with reference method by use of difference plots.

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Department of Clinical Chemistry, Odense University Hospital, Denmark.


Various viewpoints have been offered regarding the appropriate use of scatter plots or difference plots (bias plots or residual plots) in comparing analytical methods. In many of these discussions it seems the basic concepts of identity (within inherent imprecision) and acceptability based on analytical goals (analytical quality specifications) have been forgotten. With the increasing number of Reference Methods in laboratory medicine, these basic concepts are becoming more important in validation of field methods. Here we describe a simple and effective graphical test of these hypotheses (identity and acceptability) by use of difference plots. These plots display the underlying hypothesis before the measured differences are plotted and allow interpretation of the results according to specific criteria. We further describe simple but effective interpretations of the data, when the hypothesis is not fulfilled, by using two data sets drawn from comparisons of field methods for S-creatinine with a Reference Method for this analyte. The difference plot is a graphical tool with related simple statistics for comparison of a field method with a Reference Method, focusing on (a) identity within the inherent analytical imprecision or (b) acceptability within analytical quality specifications. Calculation of the standard deviation of the differences is an indispensable tool for evaluation of aberrant-sample bias (matrix effects).

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