Small-study effects and time trends in diagnostic test accuracy meta-analyses: a meta-epidemiological study
Abstract Background Small-study effects and time trends have been identified in meta-analyses of randomized trials. We evaluated whether these effects are also present in meta-analyses of diagnostic test accuracy studies. Methods A systematic search identified test accuracy meta-analyses published between May and September 2012. In each meta-analysis, the strength of the associations between estimated accuracy of the test (diagnostic odds ratio (DOR), sensitivity, and specificity) and sample size and between accuracy estimates and time since first publication were evaluated using meta-regression models. The regression coefficients over all meta-analyses were summarized using random effects meta-analysis. Results Forty-six meta-analyses and their corresponding primary studies (N = 859) were included. There was a non-significant relative change in the DOR of 1.01 per 100 additional participants (95% CI 1.00 to 1.03; P = 0.07). In the subgroup of imaging studies, there was a relative increase in sensitivity of 1.13 per 100 additional diseased subjects (95% CI 1.05 to 1.22; P = 0.002). The relative change in DOR with time since first publication was 0.94 per 5 years (95% CI 0.80 to 1.10; P = 0.42). Sensitivity was lower in studies published later (relative change 0.89, 95% CI 0.80 to 0.99; P = 0.04). Conclusions Small-study effects and time trends do not seem to be as pronounced in meta-analyses of test accuracy studies as they are in meta-analyses of randomized trials. Small-study effects seem to be reversed in imaging, where larger studies tend to report higher sensitivity.