Modeling Diagnostic Expertise in Cases of Irreducible Uncertainty: The Decision-Aligned Response Model

Link to article at PubMed

Acad Med. 2023 Jan 1;98(1):88-97. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004918. Epub 2022 Aug 9.


PURPOSE: Assessing expertise using psychometric models usually yields a measure of ability that is difficult to generalize to the complexity of diagnoses in clinical practice. However, using an item response modeling framework, it is possible to create a decision-aligned response model that captures a clinician's decision-making behavior on a continuous scale that fully represents competing diagnostic possibilities. In this proof-of-concept study, the authors demonstrate the necessary statistical conceptualization of this model using a specific electrocardiogram (ECG) example.

METHOD: The authors collected a range of ECGs with elevated ST segments due to either ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI) or pericarditis. Based on pilot data, 20 ECGs were chosen to represent a continuum from "definitely STEMI" to "definitely pericarditis," including intermediate cases in which the diagnosis was intentionally unclear. Emergency medicine and cardiology physicians rated these ECGs on a 5-point scale ("definitely STEMI" to "definitely pericarditis"). The authors analyzed these ratings using a graded response model showing the degree to which each participant could separate the ECGs along the diagnostic continuum. The authors compared these metrics with the discharge diagnoses noted on chart review.

RESULTS: Thirty-seven participants rated the ECGs. As desired, the ECGs represented a range of phenotypes, including cases where participants were uncertain in their diagnosis. The response model showed that participants varied both in their propensity to diagnose one condition over another and in where they placed the thresholds between the 5 diagnostic categories. The most capable participants were able to meaningfully use all categories, with precise thresholds between categories.

CONCLUSIONS: The authors present a decision-aligned response model that demonstrates the confusability of a particular ECG and the skill with which a clinician can distinguish 2 diagnoses along a continuum of confusability. These results have broad implications for testing and for learning to manage uncertainty in diagnosis.

PMID:36576770 | PMC:PMC9780042 | DOI:10.1097/ACM.0000000000004918

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