BACKGROUND: Early detection programmes aim to reduce the duration of untreated psychosis (DUP) by public education and by prompt access to treatment via active outreach detection teams. AIMS: To determine whether those with first-episode psychosis in an early detection healthcare area with existing referral channels differ from those who access care via detection teams. METHOD: Those with first-episode psychosis recruited via detection teams were compared with those accessing treatment via conventional channels, at baseline and after 3 months of acute treatment. RESULTS: Patients recruited via detection teams are younger males with a longer DUP, a less dramatic symptom picture and better functioning; however they recover more slowly, and have more symptoms at 3-month follow-up. CONCLUSIONS: After establishing low threshold active case-seeking detection teams, we found clear differences between those patients entering treatment via detection teams v. those obtaining treatment via the usual channels. Such profiling may be informative for early detection service development.