Diagnostic Stewardship in Infectious Diseases: A Scoping Review

Hill, James Edward orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1430-6927, Shorten, Robert, Pickering, Kate, Goolden, Callum, Harris, Catherine orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-7763-830X and Clegg, Andrew orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-8938-7819 (2024) Diagnostic Stewardship in Infectious Diseases: A Scoping Review. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 73 (5). ISSN 0022-2615

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1099/jmm.0.001831


Introduction. The term ‘diagnostic stewardship’ is relatively new, with a recent surge in its use within the literature. Despite its increasing popularity, a precise definition remains elusive. Various attempts have been made to define it, with some viewing it as an integral part of antimicrobial stewardship. The World Health Organization offers a broad definition, emphasizing the importance of timely, accurate diagnostics. However, inconsistencies in the use of this term still persist, necessitating further clarification.

Gap Statement. There are currently inconsistencies in the definition of diagnostic stewardship used within the academic literature.

Aim. This scoping review aims to categorize the use of diagnostic stewardship approaches and define this approach by identifying common characteristics and factors of its use within the literature.

Methodology. This scoping review undertook a multi-database search from date of inception until October 2022. Any observational or experimental study where the authors define the intervention to be diagnostic stewardship from any clinical area was included. Screening of all papers was undertaken by a single reviewer with 10% verification by a second reviewer. Data extraction was undertaken by a single reviewer using a pre-piloted form. Given the wide variation in study design and intervention outcomes, a narrative synthesis approach was applied. Studies were clustered around common diagnostic stewardship interventions where appropriate.

Results. After duplicate removal, a total of 1310 citations were identified, of which, after full-paper screening, 105 studies were included in this scoping review. The classification of an intervention as taking a diagnostic stewardship approach is a relatively recent development, with the first publication in this field dating back to 2017. The majority of research in this area has been conducted within the USA, with very few studies undertaken outside this region. Visual inspection of the citation map reveals that the current evidence base is interconnected, with frequent references to each other’s work. The interventions commonly adopt a restrictive approach, utilizing hard and soft stops within the pre-analytical phase to restrict access to testing. Upon closer examination of the outcomes, it becomes evident that there is a predominant focus on reducing the number of tests rather than enhancing the current test protocol. This is further reflected in the limited number of studies that report on test performance (including protocol improvements, specificity and sensitivity).

Conclusion. Diagnostic stewardship seems to have deviated from its intended course, morphing into a rather rudimentary instrument wielded not to enhance but to constrict the scope of testing. Despite the World Health Organization’s advocacy for an ideology that promotes a more comprehensive approach to quality improvement, it may be more appropriate to consider alternative regional narratives when categorizing these types of quality improvement interventions.

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