New Screening Tool a More Accurate Predictor of PTSD

A new tool for more accurately predicting cases of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is now available following more than 10 years of study. It is called the NY PTSD Risk Score. There have been previous tests for assessing PTSD risk. One such test, the Primary Care PTSD Screen, has been used by the Department of Defense as well as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs with effectiveness. The new test builds on those successes by adding a few refinements which appear to give the new test a heightened degree of accuracy when it comes to diagnosing PTSD.

The research was conducted by Joseph Boscarino, PhD, MPH, and his colleagues through the Center for Health Research at Geisinger Clinic in Danville, Pennsylvania. Dr. Boscarino and team collected data in New York City from over 2,000 adults following the 9/11 attacks. To that was added further data collected from chronic pain patients and Level I trauma patients of Geisinger Clinic.

The new screen is a 10-item tool that is easy to perform and takes as little as five minutes to administer. To previous screen elements Dr. Boscarino added four new factors: depression, sleep disturbances, access to healthcare and trauma exposure. The added elements make the test more sensitive.

Dr. Boscarino compared the updated PTSD screen to other medically predictive tests which undergo periodic improvements. He suggested it was analogous to the Framingham Risk Score which is used to predict risk for future coronary heart disease. With the Framingham test, as new data becomes available it is made part of the test. The same holds true in this case, he asserts.

The findings thus far indicate that the NY PTSD Score is highly successful in predicting PTSD – more accurately, it seems, than previous tests for those suffering from domestic violence, traumatic injury or war.

An important consideration when using these tests is their proximity to the person’s trauma exposure. When Dr. Boscarino was in NYC just after 9/11, he saw great effectiveness from brief and focused interventions. Timing played a crucial part. Dr. Boscarino estimates that testing and treatment which occurs farther from the exposure is likely to see weaker results.

PTSD can lead to increased incidences of anxiety and depression. At the moment, PTSD screening is only performed routinely for military patients. It is the hope of the research team that this quick and easy tool will make it more likely that primary care physicians can predict and intervene in more timely ways to ensure those positive outcomes for their patients.

There is more to be done to refine the screen, according to the researchers. For instance, it is likely that men and women should be administered separate screening tests. Studies show that the risk factors and variables for PTSD are not the same for men and women.

The team also is planning to use the screen for evaluating troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the Department of Defense currently employs the previous Primary Care PTSD Screen, military officials have contacted Dr. Boscarino and expressed interest in possibly adopting the new test.