Despite a number of potential benefits to both the clinician and the patient, patient-based measures of health have not been routinely or systematically used within routine practice by clinicians in the care of individual patients. There are a number of practical, methodological and attitudinal barriers which have so far limited the use of patient-based measures of health within routine practice. The extent to which these barriers are overcome is likely to influence the effectiveness of such instruments in improving the process and outcomes of patient care. This study reviewed the evidence for the effectiveness of this intervention and identified some of the factors that may influence its effectiveness. Thirteen relevant studies were located using search strategies on three computerized databases for 1987-97. The study found that clinicians see information from patient-based measures of health as valuable in the overall assessment of the patient and that its feedback to clinicians increases the detection of psychological and, to a lesser extent, functional problems. However, there was little evidence to suggest their use substantially changed patient management or improved patient outcomes. Our findings suggest that the ways in which patient based measures of health are implemented in routine practice may have an impact on their effectiveness. It is recommended that implementation strategies that are guided by theories of individual and organizational change might allow the barriers to using patient-based measures of health in routine practice to be identified and overcome more effectively.