Diagnostic Stewardship

The following is a guest post from Dr. Dan Morgan, GFOTB (Good Friend Of The Blog):


This week Preeti Malani, Dan Diekema and I wrote a viewpoint in JAMA discussing diagnostic stewardship, or “modifying the process of ordering, performing, and reporting diagnostic tests to improve the treatment of infections and other conditions.” In other words, guiding laboratory ordering to prevent contradictory results and reporting results in a fashion that makes treatment more appropriate. There really are two Criteria for Diagnostic Stewardship modifying laboratory testing:


1) Does it modify the process of ordering, performing and reporting tests? 


2) Does it improve the appropriateness of patient management? 


When I discussed diagnostic stewardship with my non-medical wife, she asked “you mean they don’t do that? Why would they do tests that contradict other results or provide second or third line antibiotic choices?” 


This is why I think diagnostic stewardship has so much potential. It is about making laboratory ordering more rational, which is hard to debate. Although medicine has existed with the idea that doctors knew best how to order and interpret results, we are now seeing they often don’t, as predicted by psychologists Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky in the 1970s; “Intuitive judgments are liable to similar fallacies in more intricate and less transparent problems.” 


Doctors ordering and interpreting test results are like other people, often irrational. Diagnostic stewardship makes testing more logical to improve patient care. Ultimately this process shouldn’t be limited to urine cultures, blood cultures and C. difficile testing but applied to new molecular detection panels and non-ID tests, like cascading tests for anemia or limiting PSA testing in young and elderly men. And there has been interest in this idea from areas outside of ID. 

The fact that diagnostic stewardship reduces false-positive tests that contribute to publicly reported HAIs means there is likely a lot of incentive to support these processes. But we shouldn’t forget there are important patient benefits too, including avoiding unnecessary antibiotics, avoiding the distraction of misdiagnosis, and improving the ability of HAI rates to truly measure care.


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