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Pediatrics. 2004 Jul;114(1):129-40.

Implementing the American Academy of Pediatrics attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnostic guidelines in primary care settings.

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  • 1Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, Children's Hospital, San Diego, California 92123-0282, USA.



To evaluate the feasibility of the San Diego Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Project (SANDAP) protocol, a pediatric community-initiated quality improvement effort to foster implementation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnostic guidelines, and to identify any additional barriers to providing evidence-based ADHD evaluative care.


Seven research-naïve primary care offices in the San Diego area were recruited to participate. Offices were trained in the SANDAP protocol, which included 1) physician education, 2) a standardized assessment packet for parents and teachers, 3) an ADHD coordinator to assist in collection and collation of the assessment packet components, 4) educational materials for clinicians, parents, and teachers, in the form of handouts and a website, and 5) flowcharts delineating local paths for referral to medical subspecialists, mental health practitioners, and school-based professionals. The assessment packet included the parent and teacher versions of the Vanderbilt ADHD Diagnostic Rating Scales. In this study, we chose a conservative interpretation of the AAP ADHD guidelines for diagnosing ADHD, requiring that a child met criteria for ADHD on both the parent and teacher rating scales. A mixed-method analytic strategy was used to address feasibility and barriers, including quantitative surveys with parents and teachers and qualitative debriefing sessions conducted an average of 3 times per year with pediatricians and office staff members.


Between December 2000 and April 2003, 159 children were consecutively enrolled for evaluation of school and/or behavioral problems. Clinically, only 44% of the children met criteria for ADHD on both the parent and teacher scales, and 73.5% of those children were categorized as having the combined subtype. More than 40% of the subjects demonstrated discrepant results on the Vanderbilt scales, with only the parent or teacher endorsing sufficient symptoms to meet the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Other mental health and learning problems were common in the sample; 58.5% of subjects met screening criteria for oppositional defiant disorder/conduct disorder, 32.7% met screening criteria for anxiety/depression, and approximately one-third had an active individualized education program in place or had received an individualized education program in the past. On evaluation, the SANDAP protocol was acceptable and feasible for all stakeholders. However, additional barriers to implementing the AAP ADHD guidelines were identified, including 1) limited information in the guidelines regarding the use of specific ADHD rating scales, the evaluation and treatment of children with discrepant and/or negative results, and the indications for psychologic evaluation of learning problems, 2) families' need for education regarding ADHD and support, 3) characteristics of physical health and mental health plans that limited care for children with ADHD, and 4) limited knowledge and use of potential community resources.


Our results indicate that children presenting for evaluation of possible ADHD in primary care offices have complex clinical characteristics. Providers need mechanisms for implementing the ADHD diagnostic guidelines that address the physician education and delivery system design aspects of care that were developed in the SANDAP protocol. Additional barriers were also identified. Careful attention to these factors will be necessary to ensure the sustained provision of quality care for children with ADHD in primary care settings.

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