Despite the increasing acceptance of quality of life (QOL) as a critical endpoint in medical research, there is little consensus regarding the definition of this construct or how it differs from perceived health status. The objective of this analysis was to understand how patients make determinations of QOL and whether QOL can be differentiated from health status. We conducted a meta-analysis of the relationships among two constructs (QOL and perceived health status) and three functioning domains (mental, physical, and social functioning) in 12 chronic disease studies. Instruments used in these studies included the RAND-36, MOS SF-20, EORTC QLQ-30, MILQ and MQOL-HIV. A single, synthesized correlation matrix combining the data from all 12 studies was estimated by generalized least squares. The synthesized matrix was then used to estimate structural equation models. The meta-analysis results indicate that, from the perspective of patients, QOL and health status are distinct constructs. When rating QOL, patients give greater emphasis to mental health than to physical functioning. This pattern is reversed for appraisals of health status, for which physical functioning is more important than mental health. Social functioning did not have a major impact on either construct. We conclude that quality of life and health status are distinct constructs, and that the two terms should not be used interchangeably. Many prominent health status instruments, including utility-based questionnaires and health perception indexes, may be inappropriate for measuring QOL. Evaluations of the effectiveness of medical treatment may differ depending on whether QOL or health status is the study outcome.