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Which Is More Useful in Predicting Hospital Mortality -Dichotomised Blood Test Results or Actual Test Values? A Retrospective Study in Two Hospitals
Published: Monday, October 15, 2012
Author: Mohammed A. Mohammed et al.

by Mohammed A. Mohammed, Gavin Rudge, Gordon Wood, Gary Smith, Vishal Nangalia, David Prytherch, Roger Holder, Jim Briggs


Routine blood tests are an integral part of clinical medicine and in interpreting blood test results clinicians have two broad options. (1) Dichotomise the blood tests into normal/abnormal or (2) use the actual values and overlook the reference values. We refer to these as the “binary” and the “non-binary” strategy respectively. We investigate which strategy is better at predicting the risk of death in hospital based on seven routinely undertaken blood tests (albumin, creatinine, haemoglobin, potassium, sodium, urea, and white blood cell count) using tree models to implement the two strategies.


A retrospective database study of emergency admissions to an acute hospital during April 2009 to March 2010, involving 10,050 emergency admissions with routine blood tests undertaken within 24 hours of admission. We compared the area under the Receiver Operating Characteristics (ROC) curve for predicting in-hospital mortality using the binary and non-binary strategy.


The mortality rate was 6.98% (701/10050). The mean predicted risk of death in those who died was significantly (p-value <0.0001) lower using the binary strategy (risk?=?0.181 95%CI: 0.193 to 0.210) versus the non-binary strategy (risk?=?0.222 95%CI: 0.194 to 0.251), representing a risk difference of 28.74 deaths in the deceased patients (n?=?701). The binary strategy had a significantly (p-value <0.0001) lower area under the ROC curve of 0.832 (95% CI: 0.819 to 0.845) versus the non-binary strategy (0.853 95% CI: 0.840 to 0.867). Similar results were obtained using data from another hospital.


Dichotomising routine blood test results is less accurate in predicting in-hospital mortality than using actual test values because it underestimates the risk of death in patients who died. Further research into the use of actual blood test values in clinical decision making is required especially as the infrastructure to implement this potentially promising strategy already exists in most hospitals.