In a recent article in the BMJ the author wonders about the reasons beyond the rising trend diagnosing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The article attempts to infer reasons for this. One possible reason was that the diagnostic criteria especially DSM may seem for some to be more inclusive than ICD-10. The speculation may explain the rise of the diagnosis where DSM is used officially or have an influence. In a rather constructive way, an alternative to rushing to diagnosis is offered and discussed in some details.
The tentative deduction that the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) may be one of the causes of rising diagnosis, due to raising the cut-off of age, and widening the inclusion criteria, as opposed to International Classification of Diseases, 10th revision (ICD-10), captured my attention. On reading the ICD-10 diagnostic criteria for research (DCR) and DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, I found them quite similar in most aspects, even the phraseology that starts with 'Often' in many diagnostic criteria, they seem to differ a bit in age. In a way both classification, are attempting to describe the disorder, however, it sounds as if someone is trying to explain a person's behaviour to you, however, this is not a substitute to direct clinical learning, and observing the behaviour, as if the missing sentence is 'when you see the person, it will be clearer'.
El-Islam agrees with the notion that DSM-5 seems to be a bit more inclusive than ICD-10. A colleague of mine who is a child psychiatrist and she is doing her MSc. thesis in ADHD told me, that DSM-5 seems to be a substantial improvement as compared to its predecessor. The criteria - to her - though apparently are more inclusive, they are more descriptive with many examples, and she infers that this will payback in the reliability of the diagnosis. She hopes gene research can yield in biological tests for implicated genes and neurotransmitters in ADHD e.g. DRD4, DAT, gene 5,6,11 etc. One child psychiatrist, regretted the fact that misdiagnosis and under-diagnoses, deprive the patient from one of the most effective treatments in psychiatry. It is hoped the nearest forthcoming diagnostic classification (ICD-11), will address the issue of the diagnosis from a different perspective, or else converge with DSM-5 to provide coherence and a generalised newer standard of practice.
The grading of ADHD into mild, moderate, and severe seem to blur the border between disorder and non-disorder, however, this quasi-dimensional approach seems realistic, it does not translate yet directly in differences in treatment approaches as with the case of mild, moderate, severe, and severe depression with psychotic symptoms, or intellectual disability. The author states that one counter argument could be that child psychiatrists are better at diagnosing the disorder. I wonder if this is a reflection of a rising trend of a disorder. If ADHD is compared to catatonia, it is generally agreed that catatonia is less diagnosed now, may be the epidemiology of ADHD is not artefact, and that we may need to look beyond the diagnosis to learn for example from environmental factors.
Another issue is that there seems to be significant epidemiological differences in the rates of diagnosis across cultures. This may give rise to whether ADHD can be classified as a culture-bound syndrome, or whether it is influenced by culture like anorexia nervosa, or it may be just because of the raising awareness to such disorders. Historically, it is difficult to attempt to pinpoint what would be the closest predecessor to ADHD. For schizophrenia and mania, older terms may have included insanity, for depression it was probably melancholia, there are other terms that still reside in contemporary culture e.g. hypochondriasis, hysteria, paranoia etc. Though, it would be too simplistic to believe that what is meant by these terms was exactly what ancient cultures meant by them, but, they are not too far. ADHD seems to lack such historical underpinning. Crichton described a disorder he refers to as 'mental restlessness'. Still who is most often credited with the first description of ADHD, in his 1902 address to the Royal College of Physicians. Still describes a number of patients with problems in self-regulation or, as he then termed it, 'moral control' (De Zeeuw et al, 2011).
The costs and the risks related to over-diagnosis, ring a warning bell, to enhance scrutiny in the diagnosis, due to subsequent stigma, costs, and lowered societal expectations. They all seem to stem from the consequences of the methodology of diagnosis.
The article touches in an important part in the psychiatric diagnosis, and classifications, which is the subjective nature of disorders. The enormous effort done in DSM-5 & ICD-10 reflect the best available evidence, but in order to eliminate the subjective nature of illness, a biological test seems to be the only definitive answer, to ADHD in particular and psychiatry in general. Given that ADHD is an illness and that it is a homogeneous thing; developments in gene studies would seem to hold the key to understanding our current status of diagnosis.
The suggested approach for using psychosocial interventions and then administering treatment after making sure that it is a must, seems quite reasonable. El-Islam, agrees that in ADHD caution prior to giving treatment is a recommended course of action. Another consultant child psychiatrist mentioned that one hour might not be enough to reach a comfortable diagnosis of ADHD. It may take up to 90 minutes, to become confident in a clinical diagnosis, in addition to commonly used rating scales. Though on the other hand, families and carers may hypothetically raise the issue of time urgency due to scholastic pressure. In a discussion with Dr Hend Badawy, a colleague child psychiatrist; she stated the following with regards to her own experience, and her opinion about the article. The following is written with her consent.
'ADHD is a clinically based diagnosis that has three core symptoms, inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity in - at least - two settings. The risk of over-diagnosis in ADHD is one of the potentially problematic, however, the risk of over-diagnosis is not confined to ADHD, it can be present in other psychiatric diagnoses, as they rely on subjective experience of the patient and doctor's interviewing skills. In ADHD in particular the risk of under-diagnosis is even more problematic. An undiagnosed child who has ADHD may suffer various complications as moral stigma of 'lack of conduct' due to impuslivity and hyperactivity, poor scholastic achievement, potential alienation, ostracization and even exclusion by peer due to perceived 'difference', consequent feelings of low self esteem and potential revengeful attitude on the side of the child. An end result, would be development of substance use disorders, or involvement in dissocial behaviours.
The answer to the problem of over-diagnosis/under-diagnosis can be helped by an initial step of raising public awareness of people about ADHD, including campaigns to families, carers, teachers and general practitioners. These campaigns would help people identify children with possible ADHD. The only risk is that child psychiatrists may be met with children who their parents believe they might have the disorder while they do not. In a way, raising awareness can serve as a sensitive laboratory investigation.
The next step is that the child psychiatrist should scrutinise children carefully. The risk of over-diagnosis can be limited via routine using of checklists, to make sure that the practice is standardised and that every child was diagnosed properly according to the diagnostic criteria. The use of proper scales as Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) in its two forms (for parents SDQ-P and for teachers SDQ-T) which enables the assessor to learn about the behaviour of the child in two different settings. Conner's scale can help give better understanding of the magnitude of the problem. Though some people may voice criticism as they are mainly filled out by parents and teachers, they are the best tools available at hands. Training on diagnosis, regular auditing and restricting doctors to a standard practice of ensuring that the child and carer have been interviewed thoroughly can help minimise the risk of over-diagnosis. The issue does not stop by diagnosis, follow-up can give a clue whether the child is improving on the management plan or not. The effects and side effects of treatments as methylphenidate should be monitored regularly, including regular measurement height and weight, paying attention to nausea, poor appetite, and even the rare side effects which are usually missed. More restrictions and supervision on the medication may have an indirect effect on enhancing the diagnostic assessment.
To summarise, the public advocacy does not increase the risk of over-diagnosis, as asking about suicidal ideas does not increase its risk. The awareness may help people learn more and empower them and will lead to more acceptance of the diagnosed child in the community. Even the potential risk of having more case loads for doctors to assess for ADHD may help give more exposure of cases, and reaching more meaningful epidemiological finding. From my experience, it is quite unlikely to have marked over-representation of children who the families suspect ADHD without sufficient evidence. ADHD remains a clinical diagnosis, and it is unlikely that it will be replaced by a biological marker or an imaging test in the near future. After all, even if there will be objective diagnostic tests, without clinical diagnostic interviewing their value will be doubtful.
It is ironic that the two most effective treatments in psychiatry methylphenidate and Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) are the two most controversial treatments. May be because both were used prior to having a full understanding of their mechanism of action, may be because, on the outset both seem unusual, electricity through the head, and a stimulant for hyperactive children.
Authored by E. Sidhom, H. Badawy
The original post is on The BMJ doc2doc website at
BMJ Article: (http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6172).
Badawy, H., personal communication, 2013
El-Islam, M.F., personal communication, 2013
Thomas R, Mitchell GK, B.L., Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: are we helping or harming?, British Medical Journal, 2013, Vol. 5(347)
De Zeeuw P., Mandl R.C.W., Hulshoff-Pol H.E., et al., Decreased frontostriatal microstructural organization in ADHD. Human Brain Mapping. DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21335, 2011)
Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5, American Psychiatric Association, 2013
Diagnostic Statistical Manual-IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994
International Classification of Diseases, World Health Organization, 1992
Being Black in America is dangerous. We hear about the deaths by police shooting or white supremacist - and by gun violence generally, which disproportionately plagues Black communities. But we hardly ever discuss the persistent discrepancy in life expectancy between white and black. There are many ways to attack the latter through healthcare policy and practice -- if we are willing. That remains the question for America 48 years after King was killed.
Thanks to those who read my last post. I was encouraged to hear from my colleagues at Med school that the post sounded very positive and hopefully. A few of them queried whether I had actually written it because there was a noticeable lack of sarcasm or criticism.
So... the following posts may be a bit different. A little warning - some of what I post may be me playing "Devil's advocate" because I believe that everything should be questioned and sparking debate is a good way of making us all evaluate what we truly think on a subject.
With no further a do, let's get on to the subject of today's post ....
An Introduction to Clinical Medicine
The previous year was my first as a clinical med student. Before we started I naively thought that we would be placed in helpful, encouraging environments that would support us in our learning, so that we were able to maximize our clinical experience. My hope was that there would be lots of enthusiastic doctors willing to teach, a well organised teaching schedule and admin staff that would be able to help us with any difficulties. I hoped these would all be in place so that WE medical students could be turned from a bunch of confused, under-grad science students into the best junior doctors we could possibly be.
It seems that medical school and the NHS have a very different opinion of what clinical medical teaching should be like. What they seem to want us to do is 1) listen to the same old health and safety lecture at least twice a term, 2) re-learn how to wash our hands every 4 weeks, 3) Practicing signing our name on a register - even when this is completely pointless because there are no staff at the hospital anyway because the roads are shut with 10 inches of snow most of the time, 4) Master the art of filling in forms that no one will ever look at or use in anyway that is productive, 5) STAY OUT OF THE WAY OF THE BUSY STAFF because we are useless nuisances who spread MRSA and C.Dif where ever we go! How we all learn medicine and pass our exams is any ones guess!
Undergraduate Co-Ordinators - Why won't you make life easier for us?
While at my last placement I was elected as the 3rd year student representative for that hospital. While I was fulfilling that role it got me wondering what it is that Under-grad Co-Ordinators actually do? I thought this may be an interesting topic of debate.
1) Who are they and how qualified are they?
2) what is their job description and what are they supposed to be doing?
3) Are they a universal phenomena? or have they just evolved within the West Midlands?
4) Does anyone know an under-grad Co-Ordinator (UC - not ulcerative colitis) who has actually been more benefit than nuisance?
1) UC's as a species are generally female, middle aged, motherly types who like to colonize obscure offices in far flung corners of NHS training hospitals. They can normally be found in packs or as they are locally known "A Confusion of co-ordinators". How are they qualified? I have absolutely no idea, but I am guessing not degrees in Human Resource Development.
2)I am fairly certain what their job should involve: 1) be a friendly supportive face for the poor medical students; 2) organise a series of lectures; 3) organise the medical students into teaching firms with enthusiastic consultants who are happy to give them regular teaching; 4) ensure the students are taught clinical skills so that they can progress to being competent juniors; 5) be a point of contact for when any students are experiencing difficulties in their hospital and hopefully help them to rectify those problems to aid their learning.
What do they actually do? It seems to be a mystery. I quite regularly receive emails that say that I wasn't in hospital on a certain day, when I was in fact at another hospital that they specifically sent me to on that day. I often receive emails saying that my lectures are cancelled just as I have driven for over an hour through rush hour traffic to attend. I sometimes receive emails saying that I, specifically, am the cause of the whole hospitals MRSA infection because I once wore a tie.
I never receive emails saying that such and such a doctor is happy to teach me. I never receive emails with lecture slides attached to them so that I can revise said lectures in time for an exam. I NEVER receive any emails with anything useful in them that has been sent by a UC!
Questions 3 and 4, I have no idea what the answers are but would be genuinely pleased to hear people's responses.
The reason I have written this blog is that, these people have frustrated my colleagues and I all year. I am sure they are integral to our learning in some way and I am sure that they could be very useful to us, but at the moment I just cannot say that they are as useful as they should be.
To any NHS manager/ medical educator out their I make this plea
I am more than happy to give up 2 weeks of my life to shadow some UC to see what it is they do. In essence I want to audit what it is they do on a day to day basis and work out if they are a cost-effective use of the NHS budget? I want to investigate what it is they spend their time on and how many students they help during a day? I would like someone with a fresh pair of eyes to go into those obscure offices and see if they can find any way of improving the systems so that future generations of medical students do not have to relive the inefficiencies that we have lived through. I want the system to be improved for everyone's sake.
OR if you won't let a medical student audit the process, could you manager's at least send your UC's to learn from other hospitals where things are done better! If we (potential future) doctors have to live by the rule of EVIDENCED BASED MEDICINE, why shouldn't the admin staff live by a similar rule of EVIDENCED BASED ADMINISTRATION? Share good ideas, learn from the best, always look for improvements rather than keep the same old inefficient, pointless systems year after year.
My final point on the subject - at the end of every term we have to fill in long feedback forms on what we thought of the hospital and the teaching. I know for a fact that most of those forms contain huge amounts of criticism - a lot of which was written exactly the same the year before! So, they are collecting all of this feedback and yet nothing seems to change in some hospitals. It all just seems such a pointless waste.
Take away thought for the day.
By auditing and improving the efficiency, of the admin side of an undergraduate medical education, I would hope the system as a whole would be improved and hence better, more knowledgeable, less cynical, less bitter, less stressed junior doctors would be produced as a result. Surely, that is something that everyone involved in medical education should be aiming for.
Who is watching (and assessing) the watchers!