Functional reference limits describe key changes in the physiological relationship between a pair of physiologically related components. Statistically, this can be represented by a significant change in the curvature of a mathematical function or curve (e.g., an observed plateau). The point at which the statistical relationship changes significantly is the point of curvature inflection and can be mathematically modeled from the relationship between the interrelated biomarkers. Conceptually, they reside between reference intervals, which describe the statistical boundaries of a single biomarker within the reference population, and clinical decision limits that are often linked to the risk of morbidity or mortality and set as thresholds. Functional reference limits provide important physiological and pathophysiological insights that can aid laboratory result interpretation. Laboratory professionals are in a unique position to harness data from laboratory information systems to derive clinically relevant values. Increasing research on and reporting of functional reference limits in the literature will enhance their contribution to laboratory medicine and widen the evidence base used in clinical decision limits, which are currently almost exclusively contributed to by clinical trials. Their inclusion in laboratory reports will enhance the intellectual value of laboratory professionals in clinical care beyond the statistical boundaries of a healthy reference population and pave the way to them being considered in shaping clinical decision limits. This review provides an overview of the concepts related to functional reference limits, clinical examples of their use, and the impetus to include them in laboratory reports.
- Reference values
- Threshold limit values