There is no magic moment when it becomes clear that the world needs a new edition of the DSM. With just one exception, the publication dates of all previous DSM’s were determined by the appearance of new revisions of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Thus, DSM-I appeared in conjunction with ICD-6 in 1952; DSM-II with ICD-8 in 1968; DSM-III with ICD-9 in 1980; and DSM-IV with ICD-10 in 1994. The lone exception was DSM-IIII-R, which appeared in 1987—out of cycle only because it was originally meant to be no more than a minor revision. The official publication date for DSM-V is May 2012. That date was picked to be consistent with an earlier, no longer correct, expectation that ICD-11 would be published in that same year.
It now seems obvious that this looming deadline is neither necessary nor feasible, and that a later or a flexible deadline should instead be substituted.
Why is 2012 no longer a necessary deadline? It recently became known that delays in the preparation of the ICD-11 will postpone its publication at least until 2014. Under normal circumstances, it would make sense to continue the tradition of publishing DSM-V and ICD-11 simultaneously, whenever ICD-11 is ready—probably in 2014. But there is also a problem with a 2014 deadline caused by a coding change that will go into effect before then. ICD-9-CM is now the official method of diagnostic coding used to specify all medical encounters in the United States. It will be replaced in October 2013 by a completely revamped ICD-10-CM. Publishing DSM-V much before October 2013 would result in great confusion and force a choice between 2 equally undesirable options: publish DSM-V in 2012 with the current ICD-9-CM codes, which would be usable only for 18 months; or else, publish DSM-V with the new ICD-10-CM codes even though DSM users would still have to use the ICD-9-CM codes for the next 18 months. Only by delaying publication of DSM-V until just before October 2013 would this problem be solved.
Why is 2012 no longer a feasible deadline?
It seems obvious that extra time is needed to ensure that DSM-V will not cause serious unintended consequences. The fatal flaw in the current work on DSM-V is its intention to conduct field trials without having first posted for review the specific wordings of the options being considered. This is a clear case of putting the cart before the horse.
By far the most important step in the development of any DSM is the creation and posting of the first draft—presenting all the criteria sets in a systematic form. The first draft is crucial because only the Task Force working as a whole can discipline and reconcile the often inconsistent outputs produced by the different Workgroups. It is a very reliable rule of thumb that Workgroups are always more willing to make changes than is desirable. Experts in any given area tend to have their pet ideas and to worry more about missed cases than about creating potential false positives. By ruthlessly applying the necessary rule of empirical documentation, the Task Force must provide a useful check on Workgroup enthusiasm.
Once a complete first draft of DSM-V is posted, it will require several months to allow the field at large the opportunity for a searching critique of the explicit wordings of all DSM-V suggestions. It will then take several more months for the Workgroups to digest and incorporate the comments from the field into revised criteria sets. Finally, it will take the Task Force at least 1 or 2 more months to reconcile the inconsistencies in the Workgroup revisions.
No field testing of the criteria set for any disorder should ever begin until it has been thoroughly reviewed by the field and by the entire Task Force. Field testing is itself a laborious and time consuming process. First, the methodology should be posted, reviewed, and then revised based on suggestions received. Next, sites must be recruited. The obvious time-saving temptation is to use samples of convenience, but these will almost certainly not generalize well to the actual environments in which DSM-V will be used. Human subjects approval by various Institutional Review Boards will almost certainly cause long and unpredictable delays. Raters and administrative staff must be trained; data management systems installed; patients recruited; data cleaned and analyzed; results posted, reviewed, interpreted, and incorporated into the evolving drafts of DSM-V. Then the revised drafts must be reviewed a final time by the field and by the Task Force.
Finally comes the very time consuming task of writing the text and having it reviewed. Then DSM-V must be approved through the APA’s governance structure. All this takes time—and the schedule is far from predictable.
The secrecy surrounding DSM-V prevents us from knowing the precise state of its current development or from understanding the rationale for beginning field trials now. However, it is a fair guess that the reason no first draft of DSM-V has yet been posted is that the criteria sets are still far from being presentable to the field, even though field trials are meant to begin now. We can only assume that the crucial step of vetting criteria sets before doing field trials is being skipped to allow the Task Force to save time in order meet the arbitrary and now clearly very inconvenient publication deadline of May 2012.
If anything like proper care is taken to accomplish the steps listed above in their proper order, DSM-V cannot possibly be ready for publication by May 2012. Even if all the previous problems in the DSM-V methodology were immediately corrected and every future step of the revision were done with perfect efficiency, the publication date would likely have to be delayed at least until close to October 2013—far more convenient because DSM-V can then be coordinated with the introduction of the new ICD-10-cm codes. Of course, it is possible that the careful preparation of DSM-V may take even longer.
Why not do the obviously right thing and substitute a postponed or flexible date of publication to ensure there is adequate time to avoid the many sticky problems a rushed DSM-V is likely to cause? Publishing profits are the only possible driver of a fixed and implacable 2012 publication deadline, and this is obviously not acceptable.
The DSM-V Task Force and Workgroup members are dedicated people doing their best under very difficult circumstances. They should be given sufficient time to ensure that DSM-V will be a worthwhile contribution and not the cause of enduring problems for the field and for our patients.