Objectives: Our aim was to compare the quantitative position of the level descriptors of the standard EQ-5D three-level system (3L) and a newly developed, experimental five-level version (5L) using a direct and a vignette-based indirect method.
Methods: Eighty-two respondents took part in the study. The direct method represented a visual analog scale (VAS) rating of the nonextreme level descriptors for each dimension and each instrument separately. The indirect method required respondents to score 15 health scenarios with 3L, 5L and a VAS scale. Investigated were: (1) equidistance (Are 3L and 5L level descriptors distributed evenly over the VAS continuum?); (2) isoformity (Do the identical level descriptors on 3L and 5L yield similar results?); and (3) consistency between dimensions (Do the positions of similar level descriptors differ across dimensions within instruments?).
Results: Equidistance without transformation was rejected for all dimensions for both 3L and 5L but satisfied for 5L after transformation. Isoformity gave mixed results. Consistency between dimensions was satisfied for both instruments and both methods.
Discussion: The level descriptors have similar distributions across comparable dimensions within each system, but the pattern differs between 3L and 5L. This methodological study provides evidence of increased descriptive power and a broadened measurement continuum that encourages the further development of an official five-level EQ-5D.