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Objectives To demonstrate the use of Rasch analysis by assessing the appropriateness of utilizing the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) total score (HADS-14) as a measure of psychological distress.

Design Cross-sectional, using Rasch analysis.

Methods The HADS was administered to 296 patients attending an out-patient musculoskeletal rehabilitation program. Rasch analysis was conducted using RUMM2020 software to assess the overall fit of the model, the response scale used, individual item fit, differential item functioning (DIF) and person separation.

Results Rasch analysis supported the viability of the HADS-14 as a measure of psychological distress. It showed good person separation, little disordering of the thresholds and no evidence of DIF. One anxiety item (item 11) showed some misfit to the model. The residuals patterned into the two subscales (anxiety and depression), but the person estimate derived from these two subscales was not statistically different to that derived from all items taken together, supporting the assumption of unidimensionality. A cut-point of 12 on the HADS-14 identified all cases that were classified as both anxious and depressed on the original individual HADS subscales.

Conclusions The results of Rasch analysis support the use of the HADS-14 as a global measure of psychological distress. The study demonstrates the usefulness of Rasch analysis in assessing the psychometric properties of a scale and suggests that further use of this technique to assess the HADS-14 in other clinical groups is warranted.