Fifty years of Shannon information theory in assessing the accuracy and agreement of diagnostic tests


Since 1948, Shannon theoretic methods for modeling information have found a wide range of applications in several areas where information plays a key role, which goes well beyond the original scopes for which they have been conceived, namely data compression and error correction over a noisy channel. Among other uses, these methods have been applied in the broad field of medical diagnostics since the 1970s, to quantify diagnostic information, to evaluate diagnostic test performance, but also to be used as technical tools in image processing and registration. This review illustrates the main contributions in assessing the accuracy of diagnostic tests and the agreement between raters, focusing on diagnostic test performance measurements and paired agreement evaluation. This work also presents a recent unified, coherent, and hopefully, final information-theoretical approach to deal with the flows of information involved among the patient, the diagnostic test performed to appraise the state of disease, and the raters who are checking the test results. The approach is assessed by considering two case studies: the first one is related to evaluating extra-prostatic cancers; the second concerns the quality of rapid tests for COVID-19 detection.