Piloting a new method to estimate action thresholds in medicine through intuitive weighing

Bart K M Jacobs, Alfred Kipyegon Keter, Aquiles Rodrigo Henriquez-Trujillo, Paco Trinchan, Madeleine L de Rooij, Tom Decroo, Lutgarde Lynen

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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OBJECTIVES: In clinical decision-making, physicians take actions such as prescribing treatment only when the probability of disease is sufficiently high. The lowest probability at which the action will be considered, is the action threshold. Such thresholds play an important role whenever decisions have to be taken under uncertainty. However, while several methods to estimate action thresholds exist, few methods give satisfactory results or have been adopted in clinical practice. We piloted the adapted nominal group technique (aNGT), a new prescriptive method based on a formal consensus technique adapted for use in clinical decision-making.

DESIGN, SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: We applied this method in groups of postgraduate students using three scenarios: treat for rifampicin-resistant tuberculosis (RR-TB), switch to second-line HIV treatment and isolate for SARS-CoV-2 infection.

INTERVENTIONS: The participants first summarise all harms of wrongly taking action when none is required and wrongly not taking action when it would have been useful. Then they rate the statements on these harms, discuss their importance in the decision-making process, and finally weigh the statements against each other.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The resulting consensus threshold is estimated as the relative weights of the harms of the false positives divided by the total harm, and averaged out over participants. In some applications, the thresholds are compared with an existing method based on clinical vignettes.

RESULTS: The resulting action thresholds were just over 50% for RR-TB treatment, between 20% and 50% for switching HIV treatment and 43% for COVID-19 isolation. These results were considered acceptable to all participants. Between sessions variation was low for RR-TB and moderate for HIV. Threshold estimates were moderately lower with the method based on clinical vignettes.

CONCLUSIONS: The aNGT gives sensible results in our pilot and has the potential to estimate action thresholds, in an efficient manner, while involving all relevant stakeholders. Further research is needed to study the value of the method in clinical decision-making and its ability to generate acceptable thresholds that stakeholders can agree on.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBMJ Evidence-Based Medicine
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)392-398
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • HIV Infections/drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Probability


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