The EuroQol (EQ-5D) generic health index comprises a five-part questionnaire and a visual analogue self-rating scale. The questionnaire may be used as a health index to calculate a 'utility' value or as a health profile. The validity, reliability and responsiveness of EQ-5D were tested in 233 patients with rheumatoid arthritis stratified by functional class. EQ-5D demonstrated moderate to high correlations with measures of impairment and high correlations with disability measures. Stepwise regression models showed that EQ-5D utility values and visual analogue scores were explained best as a function of pain, disability, disease activity and mood (R2 approximately 70%), although other variables (side-effects, years of education) were required to explain the visual analogue scores. The EQ-5D health index and visual analogue scale are more responsive than any of the other measures, except pain and doctor-assessed disease activity. The reliability of the EQ-5D index and EQ-5D visual analogue scale is as good or better than that of all other instruments except the Health Assessment Questionnaire. Some patients with severe long-standing disease had health states which attracted utility values below zero, i.e. from a societal perspective they were regarded as being in states 'worse than death'. The practical and ethical implications of these utility valuations are discussed, and at present the utility values should be used and interpreted with caution. With this caveat, EQ-5D is simple to use, valid, responsive to change and sufficiently reliable for group comparisons. It is of potential use as an outcome measure in clinical trials, audit and health economic studies, but further work is required on its performance in other clinical contexts and on the interpretation of the utility values.