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Assessing clinicians' management of first episode schizophrenia using clinical case vignettes


  • Work was carried out at Massachusetts General Hospital, Division of Postgraduate Education, Department of Psychiatry, 1 Bowdoin Square, 7th Floor, Boston, MA 02114, USA.

Dr Jeff C. Huffman, Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit Street/Warren 1220C, Boston, MA 02114, USA. Email:


Background: Patients with first episode schizophrenia may present in a variety of clinical settings to providers who have a range of knowledge and skills. A thoughtful workup of patients with new-onset psychosis is critical, and the treatment of first episode schizophrenia differs from that of chronic psychotic disorders. Clinical case vignettes with free-form responses can be used to carefully assess whether front line practitioners provide guideline-adherent management of first episode psychosis.

Methods: A clinical case vignette, presenting a patient with first episode schizophrenia, was created and administered to the attendees of a continuing medical education programme. Free-form responses to questions regarding differential diagnosis, workup, treatment and treatment duration were scored based on published practice guidelines. Response frequencies were tabulated and performance was compared among professional disciplines.

Results: Sixty-two attendees completed the vignette. Though the attendees typically considered a broad differential diagnosis and appropriately initiated treatment with antipsychotics, the respondents' proposed medical workup was limited, and they prescribed antipsychotics at higher doses and for a shorter duration than recommended in the literature. The prescribers outperformed the non-prescribers on treatment questions (P = 0.006), but the two groups' performance did not signficantly differ on the assessment questions (P = 0.08).

Conclusions: The front line clinicians who encounter patients with first episode schizophrenia may have significant practice gaps in the initial and follow-up care of these patients. Given the preliminary nature of this study and the debate about the optimal care for first episode psychosis, further study is needed. If such gaps are confirmed, additional educational interventions are required to align clinical management with published practice guidelines.