The future of outcomes measurement: item banking, tailored short-forms, and computerized adaptive assessment

Qual Life Res. 2007;16 Suppl 1:133-41. doi: 10.1007/s11136-007-9204-6. Epub 2007 Mar 31.


The use of item banks and computerized adaptive testing (CAT) begins with clear definitions of important outcomes, and references those definitions to specific questions gathered into large and well-studied pools, or "banks" of items. Items can be selected from the bank to form customized short scales, or can be administered in a sequence and length determined by a computer programmed for precision and clinical relevance. Although far from perfect, such item banks can form a common definition and understanding of human symptoms and functional problems such as fatigue, pain, depression, mobility, social function, sensory function, and many other health concepts that we can only measure by asking people directly. The support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as witnessed by its cooperative agreement with measurement experts through the NIH Roadmap Initiative known as PROMIS (, is a big step in that direction. Our approach to item banking and CAT is practical; as focused on application as it is on science or theory. From a practical perspective, we frequently must decide whether to re-write and retest an item, add more items to fill gaps (often at the ceiling of the measure), re-test a bank after some modifications, or split up a bank into units that are more unidimensional, yet less clinically relevant or complete. These decisions are not easy, and yet they are rarely unforgiving. We encourage people to build practical tools that are capable of producing multiple short form measures and CAT administrations from common banks, and to further our understanding of these banks with various clinical populations and ages, so that with time the scores that emerge from these many activities begin to have not only a common metric and range, but a shared meaning and understanding across users. In this paper, we provide an overview of item banking and CAT, discuss our approach to item banking and its byproducts, describe testing options, discuss an example of CAT for fatigue, and discuss models for long term sustainability of an entity such as PROMIS. Some barriers to success include limitations in the methods themselves, controversies and disagreements across approaches, and end-user reluctance to move away from the familiar.

MeSH terms

  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Psychometrics
  • Quality of Life*
  • Software*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*