Health diaries

Med Care. 1980 Jan;18(1):73-95. doi: 10.1097/00005650-198001000-00006.


A health diary is a prospective procedure to obtain reports of morbidity (illness and injury), disability and health actions. Health diaries have been used for 3 purposes: in methodologic studies to compare reporting levels for retrospective and prospective procedures; as memory aids to improve recall of health events in a later, retrospective interview; and as a primary data source. This article presents an inventory and description of studies which have used health diaries. It reviews evidence from the studies on the following topics: 1) levels of reporting compared to retrospective interviews; 2) recall error; 3) validity of health reports; 4) value of diary data for a broad view of symptoms and health behavior, for individual-level analysis and for studies of health dynamics; 5) respondent cooperation; 6) conditioning effects (sensitization and fatigue); 7) quality of diary data; 8) survey costs; 9) complexity of data collection and processing; and 10) complexity of data analysis. Overall health diaries have well-documented advantages with respect to content--the rich information they provide about individual health. High respondent cooperation and high-quality data can be achieved if staff members devote ample time and energy to retaining diary-keepers and monitoring their records. Researchers must weight the advantages of health diary information against the money costs, staff activities, and statistical computing resources necessary to collect and analyze it.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Medical Records / standards*
  • Memory
  • Patient Compliance
  • Time Factors
  • United States