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Proxy reliability: Health-related quality of life (HRQOL) measures for people with disability

Andresen EM, Vahle VJ, Lollar D. Quality of Life Research 10:609–619; 2001.

Research and surveillance activities sometimes require that proxy respondents provide key exposure or outcome information, especially for studies of people with disability (PWD). In this study, we compared the health-related quality of life (HRQOL) responses of index PWD to proxies.

Subjects were selected from nursing home, other assisted living residences, and from several clinic samples of PWD. Each index identified one or more proxy respondents. Computer-assisted interviews used a random order of measures. Proxy reliability was measured by intraclass correlation (ICC) and K statistics. HRQOL measures tested included the surveillance questions of the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), basic and instrumental activities of daily living (ADLs and IADLs), medical outcomes study short-form 36 and 12 (SF–36 and SF–12).

A total of 131 index-proxy sets were completed. In general, agreement and reliability of proxy responses to the PWD tended to be best for relatives, with friends lower, and health care proxies lowest. For example, the ICC for the physical functioning scale of the SF–36 was 0.68 for relatives, 0.51 for friends, and 0.40 for healthcare proxies. There was a tendency for proxies to overestimate impairment and underestimate HRQOL. This pattern was reversed for measures of pain, which proxies consistently underestimated. The pattern among instruments, proxy types, and HRQOL domains was complex, and individual measures vary from these general results.

We suggest caution when using proxy respondents for HRQOL, especially those measuring more subjective domains.

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