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01-09-2016 | Brief Communication | Uitgave 9/2016

Quality of Life Research 9/2016

Clinical significance of physical symptom severity in standardized assessments of patient reported outcomes

Quality of Life Research > Uitgave 9/2016
Keiki Hinami, Ahmad Alkhalil, Sonam Chouksey, Jacquelin Chua, William E. Trick



Standardized measures of physical symptoms predict mortality and healthcare utilization, but clinicians remain uncertain about how to apply them in routine clinical care. Recognizing the tendency for physician documentations to routinely underestimate symptom burden, we assessed whether or not severity was an important dimension of symptom assessments that may determine their usefulness in clinical encounters.


Retrospective cohort study using data from audio computer-assisted self-interviews augmented by chart review of patients from a primary care clinic of an urban health system.


We sampled 145 patients who completed the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale (MSAS) short form—physical symptom severity measurement—before their primary care visit. Most were women (60 %), and non-Hispanic black (59 %), and many responded in Spanish (19 %). All but three reported > 1 symptom. Overall, 79 % of elicited symptoms were not documented in physician notes from the same day. Severe symptoms were more likely to be documented [MSAS mean (95 % confidence interval): documented 2.2 (1.9, 2.4) vs. undocumented 1.8 (1.7, 1.9)].


Documentations reflect usual patient–clinician communications that prioritize severe symptoms, while standardized instruments target their comprehensive assessments. Among the many validated instruments, those eliciting the severity of physical symptoms may simultaneously help clinicians with prioritization and risk assessments.

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