Clinical experience provides clinicians with an intuitive sense of which findings on history, physical examination, and investigation are critical in making an accurate diagnosis, or an accurate assessment of a patient's fate. A clinical decision rule (CDR) is a clinical tool that quantifies the individual contributions that various components of the history, physical examination, and basic laboratory results make toward the diagnosis, prognosis, or likely response to treatment in a patient. Clinical decision, rules attempt to formally test, simplify, and increase the accuracy of clinicians' diagnostic and prognostic assessments. Existing CDRs guide clinicians, establish pretest probability, provide screening tests for common problems, and estimate risk. Three steps are involved in the development and testing of a CDR: creation of the rule, testing or validating the rule, and assessing the impact of the rule on clinical behavior. Clinicians evaluating CDRs for possible clinical use should assess the following components: the method of derivation; the validation of the CDR to ensure that its repeated use leads to the same results; and its predictive power. We consider CDRs that have been validated in a new clinical setting to be level 1 CDRs and most appropriate for implementation. Level 1 CDRs have the potential to inform clinical judgment, to change clinical behavior, and to reduce unnecessary costs, while maintaining quality of care and patient satisfaction.
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