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What is a Diagnostic Interview?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A diagnostic interview, and there are many types, is a question and answer session between doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists or other trained professionals and people suspected of meeting criteria for certain diseases. When the person is a child, the interview may occur between questioners and parents or guardians. These interviews can vary in length and questions answered are normally scored to determine potential presence of different types of illness.

The diagnostic interview is a common feature in attempting to appropriately diagnose many learning disabilities and mental disorders, and other illnesses or conditions are occasionally suspected through specific interviews. Johns Hopkins Hospital, for example, developed a phone interview to diagnose Restless Legs syndrome. Plenty of other interview types exist. Some of the most common include those to evaluate patients for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Autism interviews are common, as are ones to evaluate for presence of childhood or adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or Asperger’s syndrome.

Each interview type may be different in length and have different questions. Interviews for autism diagnosis or other child learning disabilities or mental disorders are usually conducted with parents and evaluate not only a child’s present behavior but behavior in the past that might seem significant. Questions about development in early years and later are common. Such an interview could take a few hours, and one or both parents might contribute answers to it.

When the interview is finished, the interviewer would score the answers to determine likelihood that a child’s symptoms were consistent with autism or other conditions. Positive or negative results are suggestive but aren’t always considered complete proof of a condition. Further diagnostic tests could be used, including meeting with and observing the behavior of the child.

Questions asked aren’t always yes/no. People being interviewed may be required to rate things on a scale, which can sometimes be a bit more difficult. A good interviewer knows to stop the interview and explain again if someone looks confused about scale rating questions. Those undergoing an interview should also know they can interrupt the flow of questions and ask for clarification about how to answer questions.

Interviewers who participate in a diagnostic interview may have different levels of training. Psychologists are most often likely to give these interviews, especially when assessing mental disorders or learning disabilities. Other people could also be trained to conduct diagnostic interviews. They don’t necessarily have to be professionals, though there is argument that reading the subtext of these interviews is just as important as scoring them. People may figure out how to answer things because they don’t want a diagnosis of a certain type, or their behavior might suggest other conditions that ought to be analyzed. These are important considerations when determining who should conduct such an interview.

No matter who conducts the interview, which might take place at an office, a school, in someone’s home or over the phone, an expert in conditions that might be diagnosed from the interview usually interprets the results. It’s important to remember that the diagnostic interview is merely one way to examine the likelihood that a person may have a suspected condition. While many of these tests appear to be relatively accurate and are good diagnostic tools, using them without any other forms of diagnostic techniques is not advisable.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Magnette — On Feb 18, 2014

In doing a diagnostic interview, it's very important that both the interviewer and interviewee understand the respective questions and answers, so there will be no misunderstanding. In my opinion, such interviews are probably best done face-to-face, for a couple of reasons. One is that communication is always better done in person rather than over the phone. And secondly, the doctor, nurse or whoever's doing the interview is immediately available to evaluate any physical symptoms the patient may have. Such an evaluation cannot be done by telephone.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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