Aim: The effectiveness of early intervention in schizophrenia is still under discussion. The guidelines described in the present paper were aimed at contributing to the current debate by providing Italian practitioners, families, patients and health managers with evidence-based information on early intervention. They also examined the diagnostic tools that are currently available for assessing different stages of psychotic disorders.
Methods: A multidisciplinary panel of experts (the Guidelines Development Group) used a set of key-questions to develop an explicit search strategy to conduct a systematic review of the literature published from January 2000 to June 2006. Trained personnel then selected papers from those yielded by the literature search. The Guidelines Development Group's final recommendations were scaled according to the Italian National Guidelines System grading system.
Results: The evidence available up to the time of the literature search does not allow for recommendation of early intervention targeting prodromal or at-risk patients to prevent progression from the prodromal phase to acute, full-blown psychosis, nor to improve prognosis. Conversely, identification and timely treatment of first-episode psychotic patients through specific early intervention programmes are highly recommended.
Conclusions: The Italian Guidelines on early intervention in schizophrenia are based on a comprehensive assessment of an updated, large-scale body of literature. They draw specific, evidence-based conclusions to assist clinicians and stakeholders in the planning and implementation of appropriate intervention programmes. Further research is needed to ascertain the effectiveness of early intervention in delaying or preventing the conversion to psychosis and improving prognosis in prodromal or at-risk patients. Further investigation is also required for first-episode and critical period patients.