Understanding the minimum clinically important difference: a review of concepts and methods

Spine J. 2007 Sep-Oct;7(5):541-6. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2007.01.008. Epub 2007 Apr 2.


Background context: The effectiveness of spinal surgery as a treatment option is currently evaluated through the assessment of patient-reported outcomes (PROs). The minimum clinically important difference (MCID) represents the smallest improvement considered worthwhile by a patient. The concept of an MCID is offered as the new standard for determining effectiveness of a given treatment and describing patient satisfaction in reference to that treatment.

Purpose: Our goal is to review the various definitions of MCID and the methods available to determine MCID.

Study design: The primary means of determining the MCID for a specific treatment are divided into anchor-based and distribution-based methods. Each method is further subdivided and examined in detail.

Methods: The overall limitations of the MCID concept are first identified. The basic assumptions, statistical biases, and shortcomings of each method are examined in detail.

Results: Each method of determining the MCID has specific shortcomings. Three general limitations in the accurate determination of an MCID have been identified: the multiplicity of MCID determinations, the loss of the patient's perspective, and the relationship between pretreatment baseline and posttreatment change scores.

Conclusions: An ideal means of determining the MCID for a given intervention is yet to be determined. It is possible to develop a useful method provided that the assumptions and methodology are initially declared. Our efforts toward the establishment of a MCID will rely on the establishment of specific external criteria based on the symptoms of the patient and treatment intervention being evaluated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical*
  • Humans
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Spinal Diseases / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome