Consistency in Diagnoses for a Sample of Adolescents at a Private Psychiatric Hospital
Hickin, Nancy, Slate, John R., Saarnio, David A., Adolescence
An estimated 18 to 20% of children and adolescents are affected by emotional and behavioral disorders (Canning, Hanser, Shade, & Boyce, 1992). Although psychiatric diagnoses are infrequently assigned to children, such diagnoses become more frequent for adolescents (Smeeton, Wilkinson, Skuse, & Fry, 1992). Moreover, the frequency of adult diagnoses is quite high given a diagnosis in adolescence. For example, Smeeton et al. (1992) found that of the adolescents they sampled who had received a psychiatric diagnosis (approximately one in 19), 38% received a psychiatric diagnosis as young adults. This percentage is higher than that of others (e.g., Graham & Rutter (1985) found that about 17% of adolescents with emotional problems do not show improvement as they enter adulthood), but still indicates that many adolescents will have problems into adulthood. In light of these findings, a clear need exists for the proper identification and diagnosis of adolescents with problems in order for treatment to be as effective as possible before the problems become long term.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1987) is widely used for diagnoses, and is considered to be a reliable classification system for mental health disorders (Skre, Onstad, Torgersen, Kringlen, 1991). Although several studies have found interrater agreement of the DSM-IIIR to be high, especially with regard to Axis I diagnoses (Skre et al., 1991), the available studies have examined broad categories of mental health disorders (e.g., mood disorders) rather than specific diagnoses (e.g., depression). As a result, the interrater agreement reported in studies may not accurately represent the interrater agreement for specific diagnostic categories (Skre et al., 1991) or, for that matter, the interrater agreement for combinations of DSM-IIIR diagnoses.
Whereas the DSM-IIIR itself has been found to be a reliable classification system, much less information is available regarding clinicians' precision in using it. In fact, inferences from several studies (e.g., First et al., 1993; Spitzer, Forman, & Nee, 1979; Webb, Gold, Johnstone, & Diclementa, 1981) can be drawn that the diagnostic criteria delineated in the DSM-IIIR are not used correctly. This can create a problem if adolescents are misdiagnosed, especially if medications are involved.
In this study, admission psychiatric, psychological, and discharge Axis I diagnoses were examined in order to determine the relationships between admission and discharge diagnosis. Also investigated was whether interrater agreement varied as a result of diagnostic label and as a function of the particular evaluation. The specific research questions in this study were: (1) To what extent are the primary and secondary AXIS I diagnoses on the initial psychiatric evaluation, the psychological evaluation (when conducted), and the discharge evaluation related? (2) To what extent are sex differences present in the interrater agreement of the primary and secondary AXIS I discharge evaluations? (3) To what extent are differences present in interrater reliability as a result of the initial primary AXIS I diagnosis, for the initial psychiatric, psychological, and discharge evaluations? and (4) Does interrater agreement differ across evaluations for primary vs. secondary diagnoses?
Data were collected from 291 medical records of adolescent inpatients at a private psychiatric and substance abuse hospital in the Mid-South. a random sample of every third medical record of adolescent inpatients was examined for the following information: (a) AXIS I primary and secondary diagnoses on the initial psychiatric evaluation, (b) AXIS I primary and secondary diagnoses on the psychological evaluation conducted during the adolescent's stay at the facility, and (c) AXIS I primary and secondary diagnoses on the discharge summary. For all adolescents admitted to this particular facility, admit and discharge evaluations are conducted. The psychological evaluations were conducted only when the physician specifically requested them in order to obtain additional information. Demographic information regarding the adolescent's age, sex, and ethnicity was also recorded.
The sample consisted of 97 adolescents (53 males, 44 females); 85 were Caucasians, 11 African-Americans, and 1 Native-American. Their ages ranged from 12 to 18 years, with a mean age of 14.7 years (SD = 1.6). Of the AXIS I primary diagnoses on the initial psychiatric disorder, 10 were polysubstance abuse, 9 were conduct disorder, and 8 were adjustment disorder. For the remaining 27 adolescents, no other diagnosis occurred more than 4 times. Of the AXIS I secondary diagnoses on the initial psychiatric evaluation, 11 were polysubstance abuse, 6 were alcohol abuse/dependence, and 4 were conduct disorder. For the remaining 76 adolescents, no other secondary diagnosis occurred more than 4 times.
An examination of AXIS I primary diagnoses for males revealed that 13 (25.5%) were that of depression, 8 (15.7%) were polysubstance abuse, 6 (11.8%) were conduct disorder, and 6 (11.8%) were oppositional-defiant disorder. No other diagnosis was assigned more than 4 times. An analysis of AXIS I primary diagnoses for females indicated that 21 (47.7%) were that of depression. No other diagnosis label was assigned more than 4 times. Unless otherwise specified, statistical data analyses utilized all diagnostic labels.
The first research question focused on interrater agreement across evaluations. Perfect agreement between the primary AXIS I diagnosis on the initial psychiatric evaluation and on the psychological evaluation was obtained 71.4% of the time. Partial agreement (i.e., the primary on the initial psychiatric evaluation was either the secondary or was listed as a diagnosis on the psychological evaluation) was obtained 5.7% of the time. No agreement occurred 22.9% of the time. Therefore, viewed liberally, percent of interrater agreement from the initial psychiatric evaluation primary diagnosis to the psychological evaluation primary diagnosis was 77.1%. The interrater agreement for the AXIS I secondary diagnosis from the initial psychiatric to the psychological evaluation was exact 65.2% of the time; partial agreement occurred 13.0%, and no agreement occurred 21.7%. Thus, a liberal view is that the percent agreement for the secondary diagnosis was 78.2%.
Perfect agreement between the primary AXIS I diagnosis on the initial psychiatric evaluation and on the discharge evaluation was obtained 61.7% of the time. Partial agreement was obtained 9.5% of the time. No agreement occurred 28.7% of the time. Partial agreement was obtained 9.5% of the time. No agreement occurred 28.7% of the time. Therefore, percent of interrater agreement from the initial psychiatric evaluation primary diagnosis to the discharge evaluation primary diagnosis was, at best, 71.2%. For the AXIS I secondary primary diagnosis from the initial psychiatric to the discharge evaluation, perfect agreement was obtained 45.8% of the time and partial agreement occurred 20.8%. No agreement occurred 33.3%. Thus, the percent agreement for the secondary diagnosis was 66.6%.
Between the psychological evaluation, when conducted, and the discharge evaluation, perfect agreement in the primary AXIS I diagnosis was obtained, 81.6% of the time. Partial agreement was obtained 7.9% of the time. No agreement occurred 10.5% of the time. Therefore, percent of interrater agreement from the psychological evaluation primary diagnosis to the discharge evaluation primary diagnosis was 89.5%. An analysis of the interrater agreement for the AXIS I secondary diagnosis from the psychological to the discharge evaluation revealed that perfect agreement was obtained 52% of the time and partial agreement occurred 28%. No agreement occurred 20%. Thus, the percent agreement for the secondary diagnosis was 80%.
The rates of agreement clearly differ across different pairs of evaluations. The greatest agreement occurred between psychological and discharge evaluations, and the least agreement was between the initial psychiatric and the discharge evaluations. Consistency between the psychiatric and psychological evaluation was midway between the other pairs.
For the second question, chi-squares were conducted to determine whether sex differences were present in the interrater agreement of the primary and secondary AXIS I diagnoses for the initial psychiatric, psychological, and discharge evaluations. For these analyses, perfect and partial agreements were combined and compared to no agreement. Only one of the 6 chi-squares resulted in a finding that approached statistical significance, that of the primary diagnosis from the initial psychiatric to the psychological evaluation, [[Chi].sup.2] (1) = 2.86, p [less than] .09. The other chi-squares indicated no differences by sex in interrater agreement, suggesting that raters' diagnoses were equally consistent across the three settings for males and for females.
Chi-squares were again conducted to determine whether differences were present in interrater reliability as a result of the initial primary AXIS I diagnosis on the initial psychiatric, psychological, and discharge evaluations. For these analyses, perfect and partial agreements were again combined and compared to no agreement. Moreover, because of the frequency with which a diagnosis of depression was made versus all other diagnoses, the diagnoses were grouped into two categories: depression and nondepression (i.e., all other diagnoses combined). In this instance, one chi-square resulted in a statistically significant finding, that of the primary diagnosis from the initial psychiatric to the discharge evaluation, [[Chi].sup.2] (1) = 13.57, p [less than] .001. This analysis revealed strong consistency in interrater agreement from the psychiatric to the discharge evaluation for depression, 71.3%. Interrater agreement for the nondepression diagnoses, however, was highly inconsistent, 28.7%. The other chi-squares indicated no differences in interrater agreement for depression versus nondepression diagnoses.
To address the fourth question, chi-squares were conducted on exact agreements to ascertain whether differences in interrater agreement were present between primary and secondary diagnoses assigned to our adolescent inpatient sample. It might be expected that primary diagnoses would show greater agreement than secondary diagnoses, and that was, in fact, found. Interrater agreement was significantly higher for the primary than the secondary diagnosis for the psychiatric to the psychological evaluation [[Chi].sup.2] (1) = 9.08, for the psychiatric to the discharge evaluation, [[Chi].sup.2] (1) = 9.28, and for the psychological to the discharge evaluation, [[Chi].sup.2] (1) = 5.67, all ps [less than] .01.
The findings indicate that interrater reliability ranged from approximately 71 to 90% on the primary diagnoses and 67 to 80% on the secondary diagnoses. These figures indicate that the interrater consistency of diagnoses over time was high, at least from a liberal viewpoint. A more conservative viewpoint, using only exact agreement across primary diagnoses and secondary diagnoses would yield more worrisome ranges of 62 to 82% and 46 to 65%, respectively.
The consistency was higher between the psychological and discharge evaluations (89.5% primary diagnoses and 80% secondary diagnoses) than between admission and psychological diagnoses (77.1% primary and 78.2% secondary). One possible reason for these findings is that admission diagnoses are usually tentative until the client's condition can be further examined in more detail (Libb, Murray, Thurstin, & Alarcon, 1992). Psychological evaluations, requested by the assessment specialist, may assist the diagnostic process by "shedding light" on the patient's condition and also by allowing time for the clinician to gain a more accurate understanding of the patient's condition. With even more information being available, discharge diagnoses may be even more accurate, or at least more consistent with previous diagnostic labels (Libb et al., 1992). This may also be part of the reason why, though certainly desirable, 100% agreement between raters is probably not realistic in a real world setting. Another way of viewing the apparent difference across evaluation occasions is in the amount of time between diagnoses; more time may yield less agreement. In fact, consistent with that hypothesis, adjacent evaluations (psychiatric to psychological and psychological to discharge) revealed stronger interrater consistency than was present for the nonadjacent evaluations (psychiatric to discharge). These explanations, individually and in combination, would lead to expectations of changes in diagnoses over time, and would indicate that multiple diagnostic occasions may actually inform and benefit both the professional and the patient because greater accuracy may be obtained in diagnoses.
Consistent with the literature (e.g., Jorm, 1987), the sample of female adolescents was diagnosed much more often with depressive disorders than was the sample of male adolescents. Other sex differences were not apparent, but type of disorder was related to diagnostic consistency. The findings of this study revealed strong consistency in interrater agreement from the psychiatric to the discharge evaluation for depression; however, interrater agreement for the nondepression diagnoses was highly inconsistent. This finding may be due to the fact that depression was combined as a uniform diagnosis, and nondepression was a mixture of all other diagnoses (excluding depression). Nevertheless, diagnostic agreement should not vary as much as it did here even when diagnoses are mixed rather than singular.
The data from this study also indicate that more attention or care may be taken with primary diagnoses than with secondary diagnoses. At least, there is much greater consistency in primary diagnoses. This would be expected, in that on most occasions admittance to a psychiatric hospital will be based on a primary problem. However, the secondary diagnoses are also important because they can inform the clinician about the primary problem and methods for treatment. The lack of interrater agreement for secondary diagnoses is a finding that needs additional attention.
Considering the fact that a substantial number of children and adolescents are affected by emotional and behavioral disorders, it is essential that they receive the most appropriate and beneficial treatment possible. Although researchers have shown the DSM-IIIR to have more specific criteria for diagnostic categories than its predecessor, documenting the reliability of clinicians' use of the DSM-IIIR has been more difficult and researchers generally state that clinicians often misuse this diagnostic tool. A serious problem can arise if a child/adolescent is misdiagnosed. Not only can it result in stigmatization and labeling for life, but the child/adolescent may also receive inappropriate treatment. This matter becomes even more serious when medications are involved. Both clinicians and treatment facilities are encouraged to evaluate the consistency of their diagnostic decisions and to take measures to improve them.
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A version of this manuscript was presented at the Mid-South Educational Research Association, November 10, 1994.
Nancy Hickin, Master's in Rehabilitation Counseling, Public Relations Director, VISTA Volunteer, Northeast Arkansas Council on Family Violence.
David A. Saarnio, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Counselor Education and Psychology, Arkansas State University.
Reprint requests to John R. Slate, Ph.D., Professor Department of Educational Leadership, Valdosta State University, Valdosta, GA 31698.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Consistency in Diagnoses for a Sample of Adolescents at a Private Psychiatric Hospital. Contributors: Hickin, Nancy - Author, Slate, John R. - Author, Saarnio, David A. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 31. Issue: 123 Publication date: Fall 1996. Page number: 553+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
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