Evaluating laboratory diagnostic tests and translational research

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In laboratory medicine, the evaluation of an assay is reasonably straightforward and allows broad applicable standards to be established. In contrast, the evaluation of a test is more complex and inherently less susceptible to standardization. The term “test” refers to the use of an assay in the context of a particular disease, in a particular population, and for a particular purpose. Therefore, the true evaluation is to demonstrate its effectiveness in helping a clinician achieve a correct diagnosis or improve patient clinical outcomes. The debate on the current weak framework used for evaluating laboratory tests has been stimulated by recent technological developments, in particular “omics” tests. Currently, consensus has been achieved concerning the proposal to use a model based on at least four steps to be investigated. These are analytical and clinical validity, clinical usefulness and, finally, any ethical, social and legal implications, including economic implications. As the pace of technological advancements in laboratory medicine accelerates, it is time to discuss the role of laboratory testing, and the related role of clinical laboratories. In particular, we should consider whether they should evolve as focused factories of numbers and results, or as knowledge services with an emphasis on improving appropriateness in test requesting, and the interpretation and utilization of laboratory information.

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