The importance of medical screening of volunteers participating in research on mental illness

Adriana J. Pavletic, David A. Luckenbaugh, Maryland Pao, Daniel S. Pine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The importance of psychiatric screening of volunteers participating in research on mental illness is well established. Although psychiatric research frequently relies on subjects presumed to be free of medical conditions that affect nervous system function or safety of participants, little information exists on the value of medical screening in this population. This study describes findings on medical evaluations that potentially impact psychiatric research. Methods: The authors conducted a retrospective analysis of medical evaluations in 476 consecutively referred healthy controls and 64 anxiety patients to determine the prevalence of conditions that resulted in exclusion from studies. All subjects had history and physical examination by a board-certified family physician and 37% of participants completed laboratory assessment. Results: One-hundred ten (20%) volunteers were excluded. Exclusion rates were similar for controls and patients. The most common reasons for exclusion were psychiatric conditions (6.3%), positive toxicology screen (5.4%), abnormal liver function tests (4.5%), cardiovascular abnormalities (3.9%), positive viral markers including hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and human immunodeficiency virus (3.5%), anemia (2.5%), neurologic disorders (1.6%), and electrolyte abnormalities (1.0%). Discussion: Medical screening identifies a relatively high rate of conditions in both healthy controls and anxiety patients that could impact on psychiatric research. A significant proportion of exclusions was found on physical exam, laboratory assessment, and toxicology screen. Conclusion: These findings demonstrate the complementary nature of medical and psychiatric evaluations and underscore the need to develop further standards in medical screening procedures of volunteers in psychiatric research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-76
Number of pages6
JournalPrimary Psychiatry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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