Diagnosis is a critical component of health care. The world of diagnostic tests is highly dynamic. New tests are developed at a fast pace and technology of existing tests is continuously being improved. However, clinicians, policy makers, and patients routinely face a range of questions regarding diagnostic tests. Well designed diagnostic test accuracy studies can help in making these decisions, provided that they transparently and fully report their participants, tests, methods, and results (as facilitated). For example, by the standards for the reporting of diagnostic accuracy studies (STARD) statement.
Exaggerated and biased results from poorly designed and reported diagnostic test studies can trigger their premature dissemination and lead physicians into making incorrect treatment decisions. Thus, a diagnostic test is useful only to the extent that it distinguishes between conditions or disorders that might otherwise be confused. While almost any test can differentiate healthy persons from severely affected ones, appropriate diagnostic tests should differentiate mild and moderate forms of disease.
Shortcomings in a study design and interpretation can affect estimates of diagnostic accuracy. Thus, quality diagnostic studies are essential in medicine in general and interventional pain management in particular. The STARD initiative was developed to improve the accuracy and completeness in the reporting of studies of diagnostic accuracy and provide guidance to assist in reducing the potential for bias in the study and to evaluate a study’s generalizability.
In the practice of interventional pain management, in addition to diagnostic tests which include laboratory tests, imaging tests, and physical examination, diagnostic interventional techniques are crucial. Interventional techniques as a diagnostic tool in painful conditions is important due to multiple challenging clinical situations, which include the purely subjective nature of pain and underdetermined and uncertain pathophysiology in most painful spinal conditions. Precision diagnostic blocks are used to clarify these challenging clinical situations in order to determine the pathophysiology of clinical pain, the site of nociception, and the pathway of afferent neural signals.
Part 5 of evidence-based medicine (EBM) in interventional pain management describes the various aspects of diagnostic accuracy studies.