Development and Validation of Computerized Adaptive Assessment Tools for the Measurement of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Among US Military Veterans

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Jul 1;4(7):e2115707. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.15707.


Importance: Veterans from recent and past conflicts have high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Adaptive testing strategies can increase accuracy of diagnostic screening and symptom severity measurement while decreasing patient and clinician burden.

Objective: To develop and validate a computerized adaptive diagnostic (CAD) screener and computerized adaptive test (CAT) for PTSD symptom severity.

Design, setting, and participants: A diagnostic study of measure development and validation was conducted at a Veterans Health Administration facility. A total of 713 US military veterans were included. The study was conducted from April 25, 2017, to November 10, 2019.

Main outcomes and measures: The participants completed a PTSD-symptom questionnaire from the item bank and provided responses on the PTSD Checklist for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) (PCL-5). A subsample of 304 participants were interviewed using the Clinician-Administered Scale for PTSD for DSM-5.

Results: Of the 713 participants, 585 were men; mean (SD) age was 52.8 (15.0) years. The CAD-PTSD reproduced the Clinician-Administered Scale for PTSD for DSM-5 PTSD diagnosis with high sensitivity and specificity as evidenced by an area under the curve of 0.91 (95% CI, 0.87-0.95). The CAT-PTSD demonstrated convergent validity with the PCL-5 (r = 0.88) and also tracked PTSD diagnosis (area under the curve = 0.85; 95% CI, 0.79-0.89). The CAT-PTSD reproduced the final 203-item bank score with a correlation of r = 0.95 with a mean of only 10 adaptively administered items, a 95% reduction in patient burden.

Conclusions and relevance: Using a maximum of only 6 items, the CAD-PTSD developed in this study was shown to have excellent diagnostic screening accuracy. Similarly, using a mean of 10 items, the CAT-PTSD provided valid severity ratings with excellent convergent validity with an extant scale containing twice the number of items. The 10-item CAT-PTSD also outperformed the 20-item PCL-5 in terms of diagnostic accuracy. The results suggest that scalable, valid, and rapid PTSD diagnostic screening and severity measurement are possible.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Computerized Adaptive Testing / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / classification*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data