Clinical Utility as a Criterion for Revising Psychiatric Diagnoses

Published in: American Journal of Psychiatry, v. 161, no. 6, June 2004, p. 946-954

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by Michael B. First, Harold Alan Pincus, John B. Levine, Janet B. W. Williams, Bedirhan Ustun, Roger Peele

Read More

Access further information on this document at ajp.psychiatryonline.org

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

OBJECTIVE: Changes in DSM-IV were guided by empirical data that mostly focused on improving diagnostic validity and reliability. Although many changes were made explicitly to improve clinical utility, no formal effort was made to empirically determine actual improvements in clinical utility. The authors propose that future revisions of DSM empirically demonstrate improvement in clinical utility to clarify whether the advantages of changing the diagnostic criteria outweigh potential negative consequences. METHOD: The authors provide a formal definition of clinical utility and then suggest that the merits of a proposed change to DSM be evaluated by considering 1) its impact on the use of the diagnostic system, 2) whether it enhances clinical decision making, and 3) whether it improves clinical outcome. RESULTS: Evaluating a change based on its impact on use considers both user acceptability and accuracy in application of the diagnostic criteria. User acceptability can be measured by surveying users' reactions, assessing user acceptability in a field trial setting, and measuring the effects on ease of use. Assessment of the correct application of diagnostic criteria entails comparing the clinician's diagnostic assessment to expert diagnostic assessment. Assessments of the impact on clinical decision making use methods developed for evaluating adherence to practice guidelines. Improvement in outcome entails measuring reduction in symptom severity or improvement in functioning or in documenting the prevention of a future negative outcome. CONCLUSIONS: Empirical methods should be applied to the assessment of changes that purport to improve clinical utility in future revisions of DSM.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.