Graphical displays of patient-reported outcomes (PRO) for use in clinical practice: What makes a pro picture worth a thousand words?

Patient Educ Couns. 2016 Apr;99(4):483-490. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2015.10.027. Epub 2015 Nov 2.


Patient-reported outcomes (PROs) report patients' assessments of the impact of a health condition and its treatment, and can promote patient-centered care.

Objectives: To address the effectiveness of graphic display of PRO data in clinical practice by reviewing existing literature, and current recommendations, regarding graphic presentations of PROs.

Methods: We performed an integrated literature review to identify themes and emerging principles guiding effective graphic display of PRO data. The findings were placed in the context of the literature informing graphical presentation of other clinical data.

Results: Although a large body of literature informs graphical presentation of clinical data, only nine empirical studies addressed presentation of PROs. Four major themes emerged: many patients and most clinicians can accurately interpret some PRO graphs; interpretation accuracy, personal preference, and perceived level of understanding are sometimes discordant; patient age and education may predict PRO graph comprehension; patients tend to prefer simpler graphs than do clinicians.

Conclusions: Little empirical research specifically addresses graphic representation of PRO data. A single format may not work optimally for both clinicians and patients.

Practice implications: Patients and clinicians may or may not comprehend PRO data when graphically presented. Further research to determine best practices for presenting PROs optimally is needed.

Keywords: Graphic display of data; Patient centered care; Patient-reported outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Comprehension
  • Data Display*
  • Humans
  • Patient Outcome Assessment*
  • Patient-Centered Care*