Validation of a case definition for depression in administrative data against primary chart data as a reference standard

Chelsea Doktorchik, Scott Patten, Cathy Eastwood, Mingkai Peng, Guanmin Chen, Cynthia A. Beck, Nathalie Jetté, Tyler Williamson, Hude Quan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Background: Because the collection of mental health information through interviews is expensive and time consuming, interest in using population-based administrative health data to conduct research on depression has increased. However, there is concern that misclassification of disease diagnosis in the underlying data might bias the results. Our objective was to determine the validity of International Classification of Disease (ICD)-9 and ICD-10 administrative health data case definitions for depression using review of family physician (FP) charts as the reference standard. Methods: Trained chart reviewers reviewed 3362 randomly selected charts from years 2001 and 2004 at 64 FP clinics in Alberta (AB) and British Columbia (BC), Canada. Depression was defined as presence of either: 1) documentation of major depressive episode, or 2) documentation of specific antidepressant medication prescription plus recorded depressed mood. The charts were linked to administrative data (hospital discharge abstracts and physician claims data) using personal health numbers. Validity indices were estimated for six administrative data definitions of depression using three years of administrative data. Results: Depression prevalence by chart review was 15.9-19.2% depending on year, region, and province. An ICD administrative data definition of '2 depression claims with depression ICD codes within a one-year window OR 1 discharge abstract data (DAD) depression diagnosis' had the highest overall validity, with estimates being 61.4% for sensitivity, 94.3% for specificity, 69.7% for positive predictive value, and 92.0% for negative predictive value. Stratification of the validity parameters for this case definition showed that sensitivity was fairly consistent across groups, however the positive predictive value was significantly higher in 2004 data compared to 2001 data (78.8 and 59.6%, respectively), and in AB data compared to BC data (79.8 and 61.7%, respectively). Conclusions: Sensitivity of the case definition is often moderate, and specificity is often high, possibly due to undercoding of depression. Limitations to this study include the use of FP charts data as the reference standard, given the potential for missed or incorrect depression diagnoses. These results suggest that that administrative data can be used as a source of information for both research and surveillance purposes, while remaining aware of these limitations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - 7 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Administrative data
  • Case definitions
  • Depression
  • Depressive disorder
  • Health information
  • International disease classification
  • Surveillance


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