BackgroundFailure to reliably diagnose ARDS may be a major driver of negative clinical trials and underrecognition and treatment in clinical practice. We sought to examine the interobserver reliability of the Berlin ARDS definition and examine strategies for improving the reliability of ARDS diagnosis.
Two hundred five patients with hypoxic respiratory failure from four ICUs were reviewed independently by three clinicians, who evaluated whether patients had ARDS, the diagnostic confidence of the reviewers, whether patients met individual ARDS criteria, and the time when criteria were met.
Interobserver reliability of an ARDS diagnosis was “moderate” (kappa = 0.50; 95% CI, 0.40-0.59). Sixty-seven percent of diagnostic disagreements between clinicians reviewing the same patient was explained by differences in how chest imaging studies were interpreted, with other ARDS criteria contributing less (identification of ARDS risk factor, 15%; cardiac edema/volume overload exclusion, 7%). Combining the independent reviews of three clinicians can increase reliability to “substantial” (kappa = 0.75; 95% CI, 0.68-0.80). When a clinician diagnosed ARDS with “high confidence,” all other clinicians agreed with the diagnosis in 72% of reviews. There was close agreement between clinicians about the time when a patient met all ARDS criteria if ARDS developed within the first 48 hours of hospitalization (median difference, 5 hours).
The reliability of the Berlin ARDS definition is moderate, driven primarily by differences in chest imaging interpretation. Combining independent reviews by multiple clinicians or improving methods to identify bilateral infiltrates on chest imaging are important strategies for improving the reliability of ARDS diagnosis.