The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

What is Clinical Significance

Clinical significance is a measure of whether a research result "matters" in the real world.

For example: Consider a hypothetical research study to see whether a new experimental drug helps treat memory loss in Alzheimer's disease.

  • First, patients are given a series of neuropsychological tests to assess their memory.
  • Next, the patients are given six months' of treatment with the new drug.
  • Finally, patients' memory is tested again. In this hypothetical example, suppose that the test scores of patients given the drug actually increase 2-3 points by the end of the experiment.

This increase may be enough to publish as a research finding -- but this doesn't necessarily mean that there will be visible improvement in the patients' ability to perform the activities of daily living, such as remembering names or balancing a checkbook.

While research results are often assessed through "objective" neuropsychological tests which generate numerical scores, clinical significance is often assessed through "subjective" measures, such as the impressions of a doctor or caregiver about whether a patient has really benefited noticeably from the treatment.

by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain