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Spine J. 2007 Sep-Oct;7(5):541-6. Epub 2007 Apr 2.

Understanding the minimum clinically important difference: a review of concepts and methods.

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The Spinal Research Foundation, 1831 Wiehle Avenue, Suite 200, Reston, VA 20190, USA.



The effectiveness of spinal surgery as a treatment option is currently evaluated through the assessment of patient-reported outcomes (PROs). The minimum clinically important difference (MCID) represents the smallest improvement considered worthwhile by a patient. The concept of an MCID is offered as the new standard for determining effectiveness of a given treatment and describing patient satisfaction in reference to that treatment.


Our goal is to review the various definitions of MCID and the methods available to determine MCID.


The primary means of determining the MCID for a specific treatment are divided into anchor-based and distribution-based methods. Each method is further subdivided and examined in detail.


The overall limitations of the MCID concept are first identified. The basic assumptions, statistical biases, and shortcomings of each method are examined in detail.


Each method of determining the MCID has specific shortcomings. Three general limitations in the accurate determination of an MCID have been identified: the multiplicity of MCID determinations, the loss of the patient's perspective, and the relationship between pretreatment baseline and posttreatment change scores.


An ideal means of determining the MCID for a given intervention is yet to be determined. It is possible to develop a useful method provided that the assumptions and methodology are initially declared. Our efforts toward the establishment of a MCID will rely on the establishment of specific external criteria based on the symptoms of the patient and treatment intervention being evaluated.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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