Algorithms for verbal autopsies: a validation study in Kenyan children.
Quigley MA., Armstrong Schellenberg JR., Snow RW.
The verbal autopsy (VA) questionnaire is a widely used method for collecting information on cause-specific mortality where the medical certification of deaths in childhood is incomplete. This paper discusses review by physicians and expert algorithms as approaches to ascribing cause of deaths from the VA questionnaire and proposes an alternative, data-derived approach. In this validation study, the relatives of 295 children who had died in hospital were interviewed using a VA questionnaire. The children were assigned causes of death using data-derived algorithms obtained under logistic regression and using expert algorithms. For most causes of death, the data-derived algorithms and expert algorithms yielded similar levels of diagnostic accuracy. However, a data-derived algorithm for malaria gave a sensitivity of 71% (95% Cl: 58-84%), which was significantly higher than the sensitivity of 47% obtained under an expert algorithm. The need for exploring this and other ways in which the VA technique can be improved are discussed. The implications of less-than-perfect sensitivity and specificity are explored using numerical examples. Misclassification bias should be taken into consideration when planning and evaluating epidemiological studies.