Rheumatoid arthritis is a heterogeneous and progressive autoimmune disease, and patients with this condition show varied responses to treatment. Practical, reliable, individually tailored measures of disease activity and treatment responses are needed. Outcome measures used in randomized, controlled trials, including American College of Rheumatology response criteria and Disease Activity Scores, identify when treatment should be initiated or changed, but can be time consuming and impractical in daily practice. Simplified disease activity indices, abbreviated joint counts and patient-report questionnaires are more-convenient ways to assess therapeutic responses in the clinic. Patient-reported measures of physical function, pain and global disease activity best differentiate the results of active treatment from those of placebo treatment in randomized, controlled trials. Improvements in physical function closely reflect changes in health-related quality of life. Recent trials have demonstrated limited correlations between clinical responses and radiographically demonstrated responses; both should be assessed on a regular basis. It is recommended that three domains be assessed in the clinic for therapeutic responses: patient-reported measures of physical function and/or global disease activity; physician assessment of disease activity; and imaging of the hands and/or feet on a biannual basis. Problematic joints and cervical spine involvement should be followed as clinically indicated. Measures of improvement for individually relevant physical activities need to be defined for each patient.