What do these scores mean? Presenting patient-reported outcomes data to patients and clinicians to improve interpretability

Cancer. 2017 May 15;123(10):1848-1859. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30530. Epub 2017 Jan 13.


Background: Patient-reported outcomes (PROs) (eg, symptoms, functioning) can inform patient management. However, patients and clinicians often have difficulty interpreting score meaning. The authors tested approaches for presenting PRO data to improve interpretability.

Methods: This mixed-methods study included an Internet survey of cancer patients/survivors, oncology clinicians, and PRO researchers circulated via snowball sampling, plus individual in-person interviews. Clinical importance was conveyed using 3 approaches (presented in random order): normal score range shaded green, concerning scores circled in red, and red threshold lines indicating normal versus concerning scores. Versions also tested 2 approaches to score directionality: higher = more (better for function, worse for symptoms) and higher = better for both function and symptoms. Qualitative data from online comments and in-person interviews supplemented quantitative results on interpretation accuracy, clarity, and the "most useful" format.

Results: The survey included 1113 respondents: 627 survivors, 236 clinicians, and 250 researchers, plus 10 patients and 10 clinicians who were purposively sampled interviewees. Interpretation accuracy ranged from 53% to 100%. The formats in which higher = better were interpreted more accurately versus those in which higher = more (odds ratio [OR], 1.30; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.07-1.58) and were more likely to be rated "very"/"somewhat" clear (OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.13-1.70) and "very" clear (OR, 1.36; 95% CI, 1.18-1.58). Red circle formats were interpreted more accurately than green-shaded formats when the first format presented (OR, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.00-1.65). Threshold-line formats were more likely to be rated "very" clear than green-shaded (OR, 1.43; 95% CI, 1.19-1.71) and red-circled (OR, 1.22, 95% CI, 1.02-1.46) formats. Threshold lines were most often selected as "most useful."

Conclusions: The current results support presenting PRO data with higher = better directionality and threshold lines indicating normal versus concerning scores. Cancer 2017;123:1848-1859. © 2017 The Authors. Cancer published byWiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of American Cancer Society. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations aremade.

Keywords: cancer; clinical practice; interpretation; patient management; patient-reported outcomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Fatigue
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms*
  • Oncologists*
  • Patient Reported Outcome Measures*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Personnel*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survivors*