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Open Access Research article

Better assessment of physical function: item improvement is neglected but essential

Bonnie Bruce1*, James F Fries1, Debbie Ambrosini1, Bharathi Lingala1, Barbara Gandek2, Matthias Rose3 and John E Ware2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, 1000 Welch Road, Suite 203, Stanford, CA 94304, USA

2 QualityMetric Inc, 640 George Washington Highway, Suite 201, Lincoln, RI 02865, USA

3 Department of Psychosomatic Medicine, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistrasse 52, 20246 Hamburg, Germany

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2009, 11:R191  doi:10.1186/ar2890


See related editorial by Aletaha, http://arthritis-research.com/content/12/1/104

Published: 16 December 2009

Abstract

Introduction

Physical function is a key component of patient-reported outcome (PRO) assessment in rheumatology. Modern psychometric methods, such as Item Response Theory (IRT) and Computerized Adaptive Testing, can materially improve measurement precision at the item level. We present the qualitative and quantitative item-evaluation process for developing the Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) Physical Function item bank.

Methods

The process was stepwise: we searched extensively to identify extant Physical Function items and then classified and selectively reduced the item pool. We evaluated retained items for content, clarity, relevance and comprehension, reading level, and translation ease by experts and patient surveys, focus groups, and cognitive interviews. We then assessed items by using classic test theory and IRT, used confirmatory factor analyses to estimate item parameters, and graded response modeling for parameter estimation. We retained the 20 Legacy (original) Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index (HAQ-DI) and the 10 SF-36's PF-10 items for comparison. Subjects were from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and healthy aging cohorts (n = 1,100) and a national Internet sample of 21,133 subjects.

Results

We identified 1,860 items. After qualitative and quantitative evaluation, 124 newly developed PROMIS items composed the PROMIS item bank, which included revised Legacy items with good fit that met IRT model assumptions. Results showed that the clearest and best-understood items were simple, in the present tense, and straightforward. Basic tasks (like dressing) were more relevant and important versus complex ones (like dancing). Revised HAQ-DI and PF-10 items with five response options had higher item-information content than did comparable original Legacy items with fewer response options. IRT analyses showed that the Physical Function domain satisfied general criteria for unidimensionality with one-, two-, three-, and four-factor models having comparable model fits. Correlations between factors in the test data sets were > 0.90.

Conclusions

Item improvement must underlie attempts to improve outcome assessment. The clear, personally important and relevant, ability-framed items in the PROMIS Physical Function item bank perform well in PRO assessment. They will benefit from further study and application in a wider variety of rheumatic diseases in diverse clinical groups, including those at the extremes of physical functioning, and in different administration modes.