Background: Measures of multimorbidity are often applied to source data, populations or outcomes outside the scope of their original developmental work. As the development of a multimorbidity measure is influenced by the population and outcome used, these influences should be taken into account when selecting a multimorbidity index. The aim of this study was to compare the strength of the association of health-related quality of life (HRQOL) with three multimorbidity indices: the Cumulative Illness Rating Scale (CIRS), the Charlson index (Charlson) and the Functional Comorbidity Index (FCI). The first two indices were not developed in light of HRQOL.
Methods: We used data on chronic diseases and on the SF-36 questionnaire assessing HRQOL of 238 adult primary care patients who participated in a previous study. We extracted all the diagnoses for every patient from chart review to score the CIRS, the FCI and the Charlson. Data for potential confounders (age, sex, self-perceived economic status and self-perceived social support) were also collected. We calculated the Pearson correlation coefficients (r) of the SF-36 scores with the three measures of multimorbidity, as well as the coefficient of determination, R2, while controlling for confounders.
Results: The r values for the CIRS (range: -0.55 to -0.18) were always higher than those for the FCI (-0.47 to -0.10) and Charlson (-0.31 to -0.04) indices. The CIRS explained the highest percent of variation in all scores of the SF-36, except for the Mental Component Summary Score where the variation was not significant. Variations explained by the FCI were significant in all scores of SF-36 measuring physical health and in two scales evaluating mental health. Variations explained by the Charlson were significant in only three scores measuring physical health.
Conclusion: The CIRS is a better choice as a measure of multimorbidity than the FCI and the Charlson when HRQOL is the outcome of interest. However, the FCI may provide a good option to evaluate the physical aspect of HRQOL for the ease in its administration and scoring. The Charlson index may not be recommended as a measure of multimorbidity in studies related to either physical or mental aspects of HRQOL.