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Are there researcher allegiance effects in diagnostic validation studies of the PHQ-9? A systematic review and meta-analysis

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JournalBMJ Open
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Jul 2017
DatePublished (current) - 29 Sep 2017
Issue number9
Original languageEnglish


OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether an authorship effect is found that leads to better performance in studies conducted by the original developers of the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) (allegiant studies).

DESIGN: Systematic review with random effects bivariate diagnostic meta-analysis. Search strategies included electronic databases, examination of reference lists and forward citation searches.

INCLUSION CRITERIA: Included studies provided sufficient data to calculate the diagnostic accuracy of the PHQ-9 against a gold standard diagnosis of major depression using the algorithm or the summed item scoring method at cut-off point 10.

DATA EXTRACTION: Descriptive information, methodological quality criteria and 2×2 contingency tables.

RESULTS: Seven allegiant and 20 independent studies reported the diagnostic performance of the PHQ-9 using the algorithm scoring method. Pooled diagnostic OR (DOR) for the allegiant group was 64.40, and 15.05 for non-allegiant studies group. The allegiance status was a significant predictor of DOR variation (p<0.0001).Five allegiant studies and 26 non-allegiant studies reported the performance of the PHQ-9 at recommended cut-off point of 10. Pooled DOR for the allegiant group was 49.31, and 24.96 for the non-allegiant studies. The allegiance status was a significant predictor of DOR variation (p=0.015).Some potential alternative explanations for the observed authorship effect including differences in study characteristics and quality were found, although it is not clear how some of them account for the observed differences.

CONCLUSIONS: Allegiant studies reported better performance of the PHQ-9. Allegiance status was predictive of variation in the DOR. Based on the observed differences between independent and non-independent studies, we were unable to conclude or exclude that allegiance effects are present in studies examining the diagnostic performance of the PHQ-9. This study highlights the need for future meta-analyses of diagnostic validation studies of psychological measures to evaluate the impact of researcher allegiance in the primary studies.

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© 2017, Article author(s) (or their employer(s) unless otherwise stated in the text of the article).

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