BACKGROUND: To assist clinicians and researchers in choosing outcome measures for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease attending routine outpatient clinics, a comparative assessment was undertaken of four questionnaires designed to reflect the patients' perception of their physical and emotional health in terms of their feasibility, validity, reliability, and responsiveness to health change. METHODS: Two condition specific questionnaires, the St George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) and Guyatt's Chronic Respiratory Questionnaire (CRQ), and two generic questionnaires, the Short Form-36 Health Survey (SF-36) and Euroqol (EQ), were compared for their discriminative and evaluative properties. Spirometric tests and a walking test were also performed. One hundred and fifty six adults who were clinically judged to have COPD and who attended an outpatient chest clinic were assessed at recruitment and six and 12 months later. Patients were also asked whether their health had changed since their last assessment. RESULTS: Completion rates and consistency between items for dimensions of the SGRQ were lower than for dimensions of the other questionnaires. The distributions of responses were skewed for certain dimensions in all questionnaires except the CRQ. Validity was supported for all instruments insofar as patients' scores were associated with differences in disease severity. The generic questionnaires better reflected other health problems. All instruments were reliable over time. The condition specific questionnaires were more responsive between baseline and first follow up visit but this difference did not persist. While certain dimensions of the SF-36 were responsive to patient perceived changes, this did not apply to the derived single index of the EQ. The rating scale of the EQ, however, provided a quick and easy indicator of change. CONCLUSIONS: Evidence from this study supports the CRQ and the SF-36 as comprehensive outcome measures for patients with longstanding COPD.
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