Clinical Prediction Rules: a little primer

Clinical Prediction

 How do we understand if a patient is likely to:


a)      have the condition/dysfunction we think they have?
b)      respond in a meaningful and positive way to a chosen intervention?
c)       get better within a particular time-period?


Clinical Prediction Rules (CPR)

Algorithmic tools developed to assist clinical decision-making by interpreting data from original studies into probabilistic statistics.


  • Diagnostic CPR (DCPR)


  • Interventional CPR (ICPR)


  • Prognostic CPR (PCPR)


CPR Quality


Grading Scale  IV (poor) to  I (best) (McGinn et al, JAMA,2000;284:79-84)


IV     Derivation only  

 III      Validation in narrow population                                 

II       Validation in broad population                                  

I         Impact Analysis




  • Data derived from primary study (ideally RCTs, but usually prospective cohort studies).
  • Need to clearly define target conditions, reference standards, and potential predictor variables.
  • Need dichotomous outcomes (e.g. “condition present or absent” / “treatment successful of unsuccessful” / “condition persistent or not-persistent”).
  • Study needs to report PROPORTIONS.



  • Separate study with either a narrow of broad population (ideally RCT, ideally block-randomisation).
  • Separate study subjects and therapists to primary study.
  • To confirm that predictor variable effects are not due to chance.


Impact analysis

  • To determine meaningful impact on clinical practice (ideally RCT)
  • Multi-centre
  • Is rule implemented?
  • Does it maintain improved care?


Formal quality assessment

DCPR: no validated formal assessment tool

ICPR: 18-item tool.  Beneciuk et al, Phys Ther,2009; 89:10-11

PCPR: 18-item tool. Kuijpers et al, Pain, 2005;109:429-430


Statistics of interest

The whole world can be represented by a “2 x 2” contingency table!

  Ref Standard P/Outcome P Ref Standard N/Outcome N  
Test P / Control Group a                 TP b                 FP a+b  TP+FP
Test N / Rx Group c                 FN d                 TN c+d  FN+TN
  a+c       TP + FN b+d         TN+FP  




Diagnosis / Intervention Intervention only
SENSITIVITY (“TP rate”) = a/(a+c)    SnNOut

SPECIFICITY (“TN rate”)= d/(b+d)     SpPIn

LIKELIHOOD RATIO +  =  sensitivity/(1-specificity)

LIKELIHOOD RATIO –  =  (1-sensitivity)/specificity




Probability shifts:



1 – 2: small, unimportant

2-5: small but possibly important

5-10: moderate

>10: large, possibly conclusive



0.5 – 1: small, unimportant

0.2 – 0.5: small but possibly important

0.1 – 0.2: moderate

>0.1: large, possibly conclusive


CONTROL EVENT RATE (CER) number of Control Group people with +ve outcome divided by total number of Control Group people. In other words: i.e.: a/(a+b)


EXPERIMENTAL EVENT RATE (EER) = same as above for Rx Group c/(c+d)


RELATIVE RISK, or RISK RATIO (RR): RR = EER/CER (a RR of 1 means there is no difference between groups; >1 means increased rate of outcome in Rx group, and <1 means less chance of outcome)















(The greater above 1, the better)



EFFECT SIZE = (mean score of group 1) – (mean score of group 2)

SD (of either group, or even pooled data)


Other tests:

Test / Statistic Purpose (outcome statistic)
T-test Difference between 2 groups (p-value)


Chi-Squared  Frequency of observations (p-value)


Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve Identifies score which maximises TPs and minimises FNs (Youden’s J)


Logistic Regression Identifies predictor cut-off points, and predictor clusters (Beta-values (Expβ))


Recursive Partitioning Repeated sub-group analysis to identify best-fit patients (index of diversity)


Confidence Intervals Describe precision (variance) (%)


Examples of Lower Quadrant CPRs


Diagnosis (Medical Screening – DCPR)


Target Condition:  Deep vein thrombosis (lower limb).


Test:  Wells’ Score (Wells et al, J Intern Med, 1998;243:15-23)


Quality: Level  I (impact analysis: 10 relevant acceptable quality associated studies)


Test details (predictor variables)


  1. Activecancer                                                                                                                1
  2. Paralysis, paresis, or recent plaster immobilisation of the lower extremity            1
  3. Recently bedridden for >3 days and/or major surgery with 4 weeks                         1
  4. Localised tenderness along the distribution of the deep venous system                                1
  5. Thigh and calf swollen                                                                                                                    1
  6. Calf swelling 3cm > asymptomatic side (measured 10cm below tibial tuberosity)                1
  7. Pitting oedema; symptomatic leg only                                                                                    1
  8. Dilated superficial veins (non-varicose) in symptomatic leg only                                 1
  9. Alternative diagnosis as or more likely than DVT                                                                             -2


Test scoring

≤ 0 points            Low Risk                               6% probability of DVT

1 or 2 points       Moderate Risk                  28% probability of DVT

≥ 3                          High risk                               73% probability of DVT


Reference standard(s): Plethysmography and venography


Study parameters


Signs and symptoms for < 60 days



Previous DVT of PE

Renal insufficiency

PE suspected


Anticoagulation treatment for >48 hours

Below-knee amputation

Strong alternative diagnosis



Bottom Line

Best quality CPR (Level I): Recommended for clinical use within confines of study parameters.








Diagnosis (Orthopaedic Diagnosis – DCPR)


Target condition: Lumbar/buttock/leg pain arising from the sacroiliac joint


Test: 6-item predictor cluster based on physical examination responses (Laslett et al, Man Ther, 2005;10:207-218)


Quality: Level IV (derivation only (poor quality), no validation, no impact analysis); no regression analysis, no recursive partitioning.


Test details (predictor variables)


  1. Positive SIJ compression test
  2. Positive SIJ distraction test
  3. Positive femoral shear test
  4. Positive sacral provocation
  5. Positive right Gaenslen’s test
  6. Positive left Gaenslen’s test


Test scoring

3 or more predictor variable present =LR+ 4.3 (95%CI 2.3 – 8.6)


Reference standard(s): fluoroscopy-guided provocative SIJ injection


Study parameters

Mean age 42 (+/- 12.3)

Mean symptom duration (months) 31.8 (=/- 38.8)



Buttock pain +/- lumbar/leg pain

Had imaging

Unsuccessful previous therapeutic interventions



Mid-line or symmetrical pain above L5

Nerve root compression signs

Referred for non-SIJ injection

Too frail for manual therapy

Pain free on day of assessment

Bony obstruction to injection


Bottom Line:

Not validated –  study findings could be due to chance. Small probability shift power of LR+. Not recommended for clinical use.
Interventional (ICPR) 


Target condition: Acute low back pain, manipulation


Test: 5-item predictor cluster (Flynn et al, Spine, 2002;27:2835-2843)


Quality: Level II (broad validation, no impact analysis. 4 associated high quality validation studies)


Test details (Predictor variables)

  1. No pain below knee
  2. Onset ≤ 16 days ago
  3. Lumbar hypomobility
  4. Medial hip rotation > 35deg (either hip)
  5. Fear Avoidance Belief Questionnaire (Work subscale) <19



Test Scoring

4 or more predictor variables present = LR+ 24.4 (95% CI 4.6 – 139.4)


Reference Standard(s) (i.e. definition of success) 

50% or more improvement on modified Oswestry Disability Index


Study parameters

Mean age 37.6 (+/- 10.6)



Lumbosacral physiotherapy diagnosis

Pain +/- numbness lumbar/buttock/lower extremity

Modified ODI score ≥ 30%


Bottom Line

Due to validation and very large probability shift power of LR+, this CPR is recommended for clinical

use within confines of study parameters.


Prognostic (PCPR)


Target condition: LBP, recovery


Test: 3-item predictor cluster (Hancock et al, Eur J Pain, 2009;13:51-55)


Quality: Level III (narrow validation, no impact analysis)


Test details (Predictor variables)

  1. Baseline pain ≤ 7/10
  2. Duration of symptoms  ≤5 days
  3. Number of previous episodes ≤1


Test Scoring

All 3 predictor variables present = 60% chance recovery at 3 weeks, 95% chance recovery at 12



Reference Standard(s) (i.e. definition of success)

7 days of  pain scored at 0-1 /10


Study parameters

Mean age 40.7 (+/- 15.6)



LBP (between 12th rib and buttock crease) +/- leg pain

Seen GP

< 6 weeks duration

Moderate pain and disability (SF-36)



No pain-free period pre-current episode of at least 1 month

Known/suspected serious pathology

Nerve root compression

Taking NSAIDs

Receiving spinal manipulative therapy

Surgery within preceding 6 months

Contraindications to analgesics or manipulation.



Bottom Line

Due to validation, careful application to clinical practice is recommended, strongly within confines of study parameters.





Ref: Glynn PE, Weisbach PC 2011 Clinical Prediction Rules: A Physical Therapy Reference Manual. JBL Publishing


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