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Recall accuracy of notifications about incidental findings from an MRI examination: results from a population-based study
  1. Katharina Piontek1,
  2. Adrian Richter2,
  3. Katrin Hegenscheid3,
  4. Jean-Francois Chenot2,
  5. Carsten Oliver Schmidt2
  1. 1Institute for Social Medicine and Health Systems Research, Medical Faculty Magdeburg, Magdeburg, Germany
  2. 2Institute for Community Medicine, University Medicine Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany
  3. 3Department of Radiology, University Medicine Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Katharina Piontek, Institute for Social Medicine and Health Systems Research, Medical Faculty Magdeburg, Leipziger Str. 44, 39120 Magdeburg, Germany; katharina.piontek{at}


Background Self-reports of medical findings are indispensable in clinical practice and research but subject to recall bias. We analysed the recall accuracy of notifications about incidental findings (IFs) from a whole-body MRI examination and assessed determinants of recall error.

Methods Data from 3746 participants of a postal follow-up survey conducted on average 2.47 years after examination in the population-based Study of Health in Pomerania were analysed. Among those, 2185 (58.3%) underwent whole-body MRI at baseline, and findings of potential clinical relevance were disclosed in standardised postal letters. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV) were calculated to determine the accuracy of self-reports. Poisson regression analysis was conducted to analyse predictors for false-positive and false-negative recall.

Results An IF was disclosed to 622 (28.5%) individuals; 81.5% had tumour relevance. The overall sensitivity and PPV of participants’ self-reports were 80% and 60%, respectively. PPvs were higher among women, better educated and married participants and among those with good verbal memory. Among MRI participants, lower educational level was associated with a higher risk of false-positive recall (risk ratio (RR) 1.44, 95% CI 1.01 to 2.03), while increasing age was associated with a higher risk of false-negative recall (RR 1.64, 95% CI 1.33 to 2.01).

Conclusions Most participants correctly recalled disclosed IFs. However, the probability of an event in case of a positive recall is barely above 50%. Therefore, relying on subjects’ recall of disclosed IFs will lead to a relevant proportion of errors. Clinicians and researchers should be aware of this problem and of participants’ characteristics which may moderate the probability of correct decisions based on recalled findings.

  • Epidemiological methods
  • Clinical epidemiology
  • Cohort studies

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  • Contributors COS designed the study, analysed and interpreted the data; KP interpreted the data and wrote the paper; AR, KH and J-FC interpreted the data and revised the paper. All authors read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Grant No. 03ZIK012), the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, and the Social Ministry of the Federal State of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. Whole-body MRI was supported by a joint grant from Siemens Healthcare, Erlangen, Germany, and the Federal State of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Dynamic contrast-enhanced MR mammography research was supported by Bayer Healthcare. Our work was further supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Grant No. SCHM 2744/1-1, CH 921/1-2).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.