Sensitivity of household reported medical conditions in the medical expenditure panel survey

Med Care. 2009 Jun;47(6):618-25. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318195fa79.


Introduction: Accurate survey data on medical conditions are critical for health care researchers. Although medical condition data are complex and are subject to reporting error, little information exists on the quality of household reported condition data.

Methods: We used pooled data from 4 years (2002-2005) of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) to estimate the extent to which household respondents may underreport 23 types of medical conditions. The medical expenditure panel survey is a nationally representative annual survey of approximately 15,000 households which collects medical condition information in 2 separate components-the Household Component (HC) and the Medical Provider Component (MPC). We computed sensitivity rates based on linked HC and MPC data under the assumption that if collection of medical conditions from household respondents was complete, then the conditions reported in the MPC would also be reported in the HC.

Results: Sensitivity rates ranged from a high of 93.8% to a low of 37.4% and were 75% or higher for 10 of the 23 conditions analyzed. The overall sensitivity rate for the 23 conditions combined was 74%.

Conclusions: Household reports tended to be more accurate for conditions that are highly salient, cause pain, require hospitalization, require ongoing treatment, have specific recognizable treatment, alter lifestyle, and/or affect daily life (eg, pregnancy, diabetes, and kidney stones). In addition, reporting generally was better when conditions are classified in broader categories rather than in more detail.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease / economics*
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Research / economics*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Economic
  • Pregnancy
  • Sensitivity and Specificity