Validating a decision tree for serious infection: Diagnostic accuracy in acutely ill children in ambulatory care
Objective: Acute infection is the most common presentation of children in primary care with only few having a serious infection (eg, sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia). To avoid complications or death, early recognition and adequate referral are essential. Clinical prediction rules have the potential to improve diagnostic decision-making for rare but serious conditions. In this study, we aimed to validate a recently developed decision tree in a new but similar population. Design: Diagnostic accuracy study validating a clinical prediction rule. Setting and participants: Acutely ill children presenting to ambulatory care in Flanders, Belgium, consisting of general practice and paediatric assessment in outpatient clinics or the emergency department. Intervention: Physicians were asked to score the decision tree in every child. Primary outcome measures: The outcome of interest was hospital admission for at least 24 h with a serious infection within 5 days after initial presentation. We report the diagnostic accuracy of the decision tree in sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and predictive values. Results: In total, 8962 acute illness episodes were included, of which 283 lead to admission to hospital with a serious infection. Sensitivity of the decision tree was 100% (95% CI 71.5% to 100%) at a specificity of 83.6% (95% CI 82.3% to 84.9%) in the general practitioner setting with 17% of children testing positive. In the paediatric outpatient and emergency department setting, sensitivities were below 92%, with specificities below 44.8%. Conclusions: In an independent validation cohort, this clinical prediction rule has shown to be extremely sensitive to identify children at risk of hospital admission for a serious infection in general practice, making it suitable for ruling out.