Psychiatric diagnosis by telephone: is it an opportunity?

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2014 Oct;49(10):1677-89. doi: 10.1007/s00127-014-0861-9. Epub 2014 Mar 15.


Background: For reasons of feasibility, diagnostic telephone interviews are frequently used in research of psychiatric morbidity. However, it is unknown whether diagnostic telephone interviews are as valid as diagnostic face-to-face interviews.

Research question: Are diagnostic telephone interviews for psychiatric disorders as valid as diagnostic face-to-face interviews?

Method: A systematic review of original studies in PubMed, PsychINFO and Embase was carried out. We included studies considering (1) the sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic telephone interviews using face-to-face interviews as a golden standard and (2) the agreement between diagnostic telephone and diagnostic face-to-face interviews. Eligible were studies in the general population, in patients at risk for psychiatric disorders and in psychiatric outpatients. We assessed risk of bias with the quality assessment of diagnostic accuracy studies (QUADAS) instrument.

Results: We included sixteen studies. The included studies were generally small with thirteen studies reporting about <100 participants. Specificity was generally high in populations with low or intermediate prevalence of psychiatric morbidity. Sensitivity was low in these populations, but slightly higher in samples with more psychiatric disorders. Studies with a higher risk of psychiatric disorders generally reported higher percentages of agreement and higher kappa values. Considering the QUADAS-2 criteria, most studies had a medium or high risk of bias, especially concerning patient selection and unbiased judgement of the test. Of the six studies with a medium or low risk of bias, the three studies assessing current anxiety and depressive disorders yielded kappa values between 0.69 and 0.84, indicating good agreement.

Discussion: There is insufficient evidence that diagnostic telephone interviews for the diagnosis of psychiatric disorders are valid, although results for depression and anxiety disorders seem promising.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Remote Consultation*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Telephone*