Representativeness

What population is represented by the sample of patients studied, and is this the population of interest? If the ambition of the study is to make inferences about the population of patients with, say, manic-depressive disorder, then it is important that the diagnosis is made according to standard and reliable criteria and that the sampling procedure is such that any patient in that population has an equal chance of being included in the study. This means that the authors of the study will need to sample cases from general practice and the community as well as from hospital clinics and wards. Sampling hospital patients is generally much easier; the patients are already well characterized and hospital treatment facilities are likely to be relatively few in number and close to the scanning unit. However, if only hospital patients are sampled, it follows that inference can only be made about the population of hospital patients, rather than the larger and more general population of individuals with the disorder.

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