Strategies for Improving and Expanding the Application of Health Status Measures in Clinical Settings: A Researcher–Developer Viewpoint


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Abstract

Health status instruments may be useful in clinical settings to screen for functional problems, monitor disease progression or therapeutic response, improve doctor-patient communications, assess quality of care, or provide casemix adjustment for comparing other outcomes between patient groups. However, conceptual, practical, and attitudinal barriers have prevented their wider implementation. Aside from providing more data on how these measures influence the process and outcomes of clinical care, several strategies may help to improve and expand their application. Wider application would be promoted by training health care providers about the methods of health status assessment, their validity, and the available instruments; comparing newer functional measures and older scales with which clinicians are familiar (to make scores more meaningful); providing better data for the selection of instruments; and improving the responsiveness of these questionnaires to clinical changes. If health status measures are used in direct patient care, it is important to determine whether the goal is to screen for functional problems or to monitor patient changes over time. These different purposes may influence the selection of instruments, the types of patients targeted (e.g., based on age or diagnosis), and the frequency of patient assessment. Health status measures must be easily incorporated into the office routine, requiring that they be brief, easy to interpret, and not require complex training or scoring algorithms. In this setting, it may be helpful to provide clinicians not only with functional status scores, but with interpretations and recommendations about management or community resources to consider. The costs of health status measurement and data analysis will probably be borne by third-party payers, who must be persuaded of their utility. When health status measures are used for quality assurance, average scores for groups of patients should be adjusted for disease severity, comorbid conditions, demographic characteristics, socioeconomic status, and baseline health status. Furthermore, the sickest or most vulnerable members of a clinical population may be least able to provide valid health status information because of dementia, frailty, blindness, illiteracy, or inability to speak English. These patients may be of particular interest, and are likely to alter average health status scores for a population, so methods to assure complete ascertainment must be considered.

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