Validation of Diagnostic Groups Based on Health Care Utilization Data Should Adjust for Sampling Strategy

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Valid measurement of outcomes such as disease prevalence using health care utilization data is fundamental to the implementation of a “learning health system.” Definitions of such outcomes can be complex, based on multiple diagnostic codes. The literature on validating such data demonstrates a lack of awareness of the need for a stratified sampling design and corresponding statistical methods. We propose a method for validating the measurement of diagnostic groups that have: (1) different prevalences of diagnostic codes within the group; and (2) low prevalence.


We describe an estimation method whereby: (1) low-prevalence diagnostic codes are oversampled, and the positive predictive value (PPV) of the diagnostic group is estimated as a weighted average of the PPV of each diagnostic code; and (2) claims that fall within a low-prevalence diagnostic group are oversampled relative to claims that are not, and bias-adjusted estimators of sensitivity and specificity are generated.


We illustrate our proposed method using an example from population health surveillance in which diagnostic groups are applied to physician claims to identify cases of acute respiratory illness.


Failure to account for the prevalence of each diagnostic code within a diagnostic group leads to the underestimation of the PPV, because low-prevalence diagnostic codes are more likely to be false positives. Failure to adjust for oversampling of claims that fall within the low-prevalence diagnostic group relative to those that do not leads to the overestimation of sensitivity and underestimation of specificity.

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