In modern medicine the traditional way of assessing change in patients has been to focus on laboratory or clinical tests. At its most simple this involves measuring pulse, blood pressure, and temperature, and carrying out physical examinations. At more complex levels it may include haematological analysis, computed tomography, radiography, organ function tests, genetic analysis, and other investigations. While these give important information about the disease, especially about chronic and progressive diseases, it is impossible to separate disease from an individual's personal and social context. No illness exists in a vacuum.
One way of capturing the personal and social context of patients is to use quality of life measures.1 These are accepted as outcome measures in clinical research but are rarely used in routine clinical practice, despite the fact that Florence Nightingale was one of the first clinicians to insist on measuring the outcome of routine care to evaluate treatment.2 This article reviews the challenges of using quality of life measures in clinical practice including selecting appropriate measures, analysing data, providing feedback, interpreting results, and incorporating these measures into clinical decision making. Practical ways of resolving the tension between the need for approaches suitable in the clinical encounter and the highly individualised nature of quality of life are also examined.
- Using quality of life measures in clinical practice ensures that treatment and evaluations focus on the patient rather than the disease
- The measures are potentially useful in both the clinical encounter and in quality improvement
- They are not a substitute for measures of disease outcomes and may not always be the most appropriate patient centred outcome to assess
- Measures developed for research often cannot easily be used in clinical practice
- Measures that form an integral part of treatment planning and evaluation are more likely to influence clinical decision making than those that are used only to monitor disease or treatment