Background: Interventions to improve care for persons with chronic medical conditions often use quality of life (QOL) outcomes. These outcomes may be affected by coexisting (comorbid) chronic conditions as well as the index condition of interest. A subjective measure of comorbidity that incorporates an assessment of disease severity may be particularly useful for assessing comorbidity for these investigations.
Methods: A survey including a list of 25 common chronic conditions was administered to a population of HMO members age 65 or older. Disease burden (comorbidity) was defined as the number of self-identified comorbid conditions weighted by the degree (from 1 to 5) to which each interfered with their daily activities. We calculated sensitivities and specificities relative to chart review for each condition. We correlated self-reported disease burden, relative to two other well-known comorbidity measures (the Charlson Comorbidity Index and the RxRisk score) and chart review, with our primary and secondary QOL outcomes of interest: general health status, physical functioning, depression screen and self-efficacy.
Results: 156 respondents reported an average of 5.9 chronic conditions. Median sensitivity and specificity relative to chart review were 75% and 92% respectively. QOL outcomes correlated most strongly with disease burden, followed by number of conditions by chart review, the Charlson Comorbidity Index and the RxRisk score.
Conclusion: Self-report appears to provide a reasonable estimate of comorbidity. For certain QOL assessments, self-reported disease burden may provide a more accurate estimate of comorbidity than existing measures that use different methodologies, and that were originally validated against other outcomes. Investigators adjusting for comorbidity in studies using QOL outcomes may wish to consider using subjective comorbidity measures that incorporate disease severity.