Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Psychiatr Serv. 1999 Aug;50(8):1059-65.

Diagnoses of patients treated with ECT: a comparison of evidence-based standards with reported use.

Author information

  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Hospital, MA 02139, USA.



This study assessed the extent to which patients treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) had diagnoses for which ECT is an efficacious treatment according to evidence-based standards.


ECT use among all beneficiaries of a large New England insurance company in 1994 and 1995 was examined using a retrospective cohort design. Associations between provider characteristics and ECT use for diagnoses outside the standards were determined using logistic regression analysis.


A total of 996 individuals among approximately 1.2 million beneficiaries were treated with ECT. They received a total of 1,532 ECT courses. For 86.5 percent of the courses, the diagnosis was within evidence-based indications; for 13.5 percent, the diagnosis was outside the indications. In more than half of the 13.5 percent of cases, conditions were depressive disorders for which no studies have been conducted or disorders that likely had associated depressive symptoms. Patients receiving ECT for diagnoses outside evidence-based indications were more likely to have been treated by psychiatrists who graduated from medical school between 1940 and 1960 and between 1961 and 1980 than by those who graduated between 1981 and 1990. These patients were also less likely to have been treated by psychiatrists who received their medical education outside the U.S.


Diagnoses of patients treated with ECT were mostly within evidence-based indications. The results provide reassurance to those concerned that ECT may be used indiscriminately. If confirmed by further research, the finding that psychiatrists trained in earlier eras were more likely to use ECT for diagnoses outside evidence-based indications may offer an opportunity for targeted quality improvement.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Atypon
    Loading ...
    Support Center