Diagnoses are important because of the information that they convey. They are important in facilitating effective communication among professionals as well as for effective treatment planning. The diagnostic terminology of the DSM allows professionals to communicate clearly with one another about their clients' conditions. This communication helps to direct clients to the proper treatment and also ensures continuity of care when clients switch treatment providers. For example, a client who is traveling or is outside his or her regular locale may need assistance and seek out another health care provider. The new provider would be greatly aided in helping the client by communication with the regular provider about the individual and his or her condition. A proper assignment could then be reached to create a useful treatment strategy.
On another level, standard diagnoses are useful because they also allow for important communication between clinicians and researchers in psychology. This is most true when new symptoms are emerging and the need arises for developing new treatment strategies. When the mental health community uses the same language about signs and symptoms in the study of specific conditions, medical and psychological knowledge can advance much more efficiently.
More practically, diagnostic information is important to treatment because diagnostic information is needed to justify treatment financially. When a client meets formal diagnostic criteria for a disorder, the health care provider can administer services and justify the treatment to insurance agencies and others interested in the financial management of mental health problems. Diagnoses may also help such agencies to discover trends in which treatments work and where disorders tend to be developing (the focus of the field of epidemiology) or to recognize gaps in services, such as when people with certain disorders suddenly disappear from the mental health care system.
Even more important, however, standard diagnoses and thorough diagnostic procedures allow for good communication among professionals, their clients, and the families of those affected by mental illness. Communicating diagnostic information effectively to the client and family members or significant others is likely to help with the management of the problem. The better that all involved understand the symptoms and prognosis (expectations for the effects of the condition on future functioning), the more likely everyone is to assist with treatment compliance. Further, it can be very helpful to families to learn that their loved ones have formal diagnoses. Mental health conditions can create chaos and misunderstanding, and improvements in relationships may occur if families and significant others are able to place problematic symptoms in perspective. Rather than attributing symptomatic behavior to personal irresponsibility or problems of character, family members and friends can see the symptoms as reflecting the illness. Although this understanding does not make everything perfect, it may help facilitate a more effective problem-solving strategy for the affected person and his or her significant others.
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