Tuberculosis is a major source of global mortality caused by infection, partly because of a tremendous ongoing burden of undiagnosed disease. Improved diagnostic technology may play an increasingly crucial part in global efforts to end tuberculosis, but the ability of diagnostic tests to curb tuberculosis transmission is dependent on multiple factors, including the time taken by a patient to seek health care, the patient's symptoms, and the patterns of transmission before diagnosis. Novel diagnostic assays for tuberculosis have conventionally been evaluated on the basis of characteristics such as sensitivity and specificity, using assumptions that probably overestimate the impact of diagnostic tests on transmission. We argue for a shift in focus to the evaluation of such tests' incremental value, defining outcomes that reflect each test's purpose (for example, transmissions averted) and comparing systems with the test against those without, in terms of those outcomes. Incremental value can also be measured in units of outcome per incremental unit of resource (for example, money or human capacity). Using a novel, simplified model of tuberculosis transmission that addresses some of the limitations of earlier tuberculosis diagnostic models, we demonstrate that the incremental value of any novel test depends not just on its accuracy, but also on elements such as patient behaviour, tuberculosis natural history and health systems. By integrating these factors into a single unified framework, we advance an approach to the evaluation of new diagnostic tests for tuberculosis that considers the incremental value at the population level and demonstrates how additional data could inform more-effective implementation of tuberculosis diagnostic tests under various conditions.This article has not been written or reviewed by Nature editors. Nature accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of the information provided.
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