The diagnostic accuracy of the PTSD checklist: a critical review.


Journal Article (Review)

The PTSD Checklist (PCL) is the most frequently used self-report measure of PTSD symptoms. Although the PCL has been in use for nearly 20 years and over a dozen validation studies have been conducted, this paper provides the first comprehensive review of its diagnostic utility. Eighteen diagnostic accuracy studies of the PCL are presented, followed by an examination of the potential roles of spectrum effects, bias, and prevalence in understanding the variation in sensitivity, specificity, and other operating characteristics across these studies. Two related issues as to the interchangeability of the PCL's three versions (civilian, military, and specific) and various scoring methods are also discussed. Findings indicate that the PCL has several strengths as a PTSD screening test and suggest that it can be a useful tool when followed by a second-tier diagnostic test such as a standardized interview. However, the PCL's operating characteristics demonstrate significant variation across populations, settings, and research methods and few studies have examined such factors that may moderate the PCL's utility. Recommendations and cautions regarding the use of the PCL as a clinical screening test, a diagnostic tool in research, and as an estimator of PTSD population prevalence are provided.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • McDonald, SD; Calhoun, PS

Published Date

  • December 2010

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 30 / 8

Start / End Page

  • 976 - 987

PubMed ID

  • 20705376

Pubmed Central ID

  • 20705376

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-7811

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.06.012


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States