A zlog-based algorithm and tool for plausibility checks of reference intervals


Objectives Laboratory information systems typically contain hundreds or even thousands of reference limits stratified by sex and age. Since under these conditions a manual plausibility check is hardly feasible, we have developed a simple algorithm that facilitates this check. An open-source R tool is available as a Shiny application at github.com/SandraKla/Zlog_AdRI.

Methods Based on the zlog standardization, we can possibly detect critical jumps at the transitions between age groups, regardless of the analytical method or the measuring unit. Its advantage compared to the standard z-value is that means and standard deviations are calculated from the reference limits rather than from the underlying data itself. The purpose of the tool is illustrated by the example of reference intervals of children and adolescents from the Canadian Laboratory Initiative on Pediatric Reference Intervals (CALIPER).

Results The Shiny application identifies the zlog values, lists them in a colored table format and plots them additionally with the specified reference intervals. The algorithm detected several strong and rapid changes in reference intervals from the neonatal period to puberty. Remarkable jumps with absolute zlog values of more than five were seen for 29 out of 192 reference limits (15.1%). This might be attenuated by introducing shorter time periods or mathematical functions of reference limits over age.

Conclusions Age-partitioned reference intervals will remain the standard in laboratory routine for the foreseeable future, and as such, algorithmic approaches like our zlog approach in the presented Shiny application will remain valuable tools for testing their plausibility on a wide scale.

Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine