How good is our diagnostic intuition? Clinician prediction of bacteremia in critically ill children

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1 Scopus citations


Background: Clinical intuition and nonanalytic reasoning play a major role in clinical hypothesis generation; however, clinicians' intuition about whether a critically ill child is bacteremic has not been explored. We endeavored to assess pediatric critical care clinicians' ability to predict bacteremia and to evaluate what affected the accuracy of those predictions. Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of clinicians' responses to a sepsis screening tool ("Early Sepsis Detection Tool"or "ESDT") over 6 months. The ESDT was completed during the initial evaluation of a possible sepsis episode. If a culture was ordered, they were asked to predict if the culture would be positive or negative. Culture results were compared to predictions for each episode as well as vital signs and laboratory data from the preceding 24 h. Results: From January to July 2017, 266 ESDTs were completed. Of the 135 blood culture episodes, 15% of cultures were positive. Clinicians correctly predicted patients with bacteremia in 82% of cases, but the positive predictive value was just 28% as there was a tendency to overestimate the presence of bacteremia. The negative predictive value was 96%. The presence of bandemia, thrombocytopenia, and abnormal CRP were associated with increased likelihood of correct positive prediction. Conclusions: Clinicians are accurate in predicting critically ill children whose blood cultures, obtained for symptoms of sepsis, will be negative. Clinicians frequently overestimate the presence of bacteremia. The combination of evidence-based practice guidelines and bedside judgment should be leveraged to optimize diagnosis of bacteremia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number144
JournalBMC medical informatics and decision making
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2 2020


  • Bacteremia
  • Decision support
  • Prediction
  • Quality improvement
  • Sepsis
  • Stewardship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health Informatics


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