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Open Access Research article

A bootstrap approach for assessing the uncertainty of outcome probabilities when using a scoring system

Gabriele Cevenini and Paolo Barbini*

Author Affiliations

Department of Surgery and Bioengineering, University of Siena, Siena, Italy

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2010, 10:45  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-10-45

Published: 26 August 2010



Scoring systems are a very attractive family of clinical predictive models, because the patient score can be calculated without using any data processing system. Their weakness lies in the difficulty of associating a reliable prognostic probability with each score. In this study a bootstrap approach for estimating confidence intervals of outcome probabilities is described and applied to design and optimize the performance of a scoring system for morbidity in intensive care units after heart surgery.


The bias-corrected and accelerated bootstrap method was used to estimate the 95% confidence intervals of outcome probabilities associated with a scoring system. These confidence intervals were calculated for each score and each step of the scoring-system design by means of one thousand bootstrapped samples. 1090 consecutive adult patients who underwent coronary artery bypass graft were assigned at random to two groups of equal size, so as to define random training and testing sets with equal percentage morbidities. A collection of 78 preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative variables were considered as likely morbidity predictors.


Several competing scoring systems were compared on the basis of discrimination, generalization and uncertainty associated with the prognostic probabilities. The results showed that confidence intervals corresponding to different scores often overlapped, making it convenient to unite and thus reduce the score classes. After uniting two adjacent classes, a model with six score groups not only gave a satisfactory trade-off between discrimination and generalization, but also enabled patients to be allocated to classes, most of which were characterized by well separated confidence intervals of prognostic probabilities.


Scoring systems are often designed solely on the basis of discrimination and generalization characteristics, to the detriment of prediction of a trustworthy outcome probability. The present example demonstrates that using a bootstrap method for the estimation of outcome-probability confidence intervals provides useful additional information about score-class statistics, guiding physicians towards the most convenient model for predicting morbidity outcomes in their clinical context.