Using patient questionnaires for improving clinical management and outcomes

What is the aim of this review?

The aim of this Cochrane Review was to find out whether healthcare workers who receive information from questionnaires completed by their patients give better health care and whether their patients have better health. We collected and analysed all relevant studies.

Key messages

Patient questionnaire responses fed back to health workers and patients may result in moderate benefits for patient-provider communication and small benefits for patients' quality of life. Healthcare workers probably make and record more diagnoses and take more notes. The intervention probably makes little or no difference for patient's general perceptions of their health, social functioning, and pain. There appears to be no impact on physical and mental functioning, and fatigue. Our confidence in these results is limited by the quality and number of included studies for each outcome.

What was studied in the review?

When receiving health care, patients are not always asked about how they feel, either about their physical, mental or social health. This can be a problem as knowing how the patient is feeling might help to make decisions about diagnosis and the course of the treatment. One possible solution is to ask the patients to complete questionnaires about their health, and then give that information to the healthcare workers and to patients.

What are the main results of the review?

We found 116 studies (49,785 participants), all of which were from high-income countries. We found that feeding back patient questionnaire responses to healthcare workers and patients probably slightly improves quality of life and increases communication between patients and their doctors, but probably does not make a lot of difference to social functioning. We are not sure of the impact on physical and mental functioning or fatigue of feeding back patient questionnaire responses as the certainty of this evidence was assessed as very low. The intervention probably increases diagnosis and note-taking. We did not find studies reporting on adverse effects defined as distress following or related to Patient-reported outcomes measures (PROM) completion.

How up-to-date is this review?

The review authors searched for studies that had been published up to October 2020.

Authors' conclusions: 

PROM feedback probably produces moderate improvements in communication between healthcare professionals and patients as well as in diagnosis and notation, and disease control, and small improvements to quality of life. Our confidence in the effects is limited by the risk of bias, heterogeneity and small number of trials conducted to assess outcomes of interest. It is unclear whether   many of these improvements are clinically meaningful or sustainable in the long term. There is a need for more high-quality studies in this area, particularly studies which employ cluster designs and utilise techniques to maintain allocation concealment.

Read the full abstract...

Patient-reported outcomes measures (PROMs) assess a patient’s subjective appraisal of health outcomes from their own perspective. Despite hypothesised benefits that feedback  on PROMs can support decision-making in clinical practice and improve outcomes, there is uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of PROMs feedback.


To assess the effects of PROMs feedback to patients, or healthcare workers, or both on patient-reported health outcomes and processes of care.

Search strategy: 

We searched MEDLINE, Embase, CENTRAL, two other databases and two clinical trial registries on 5 October 2020. We searched grey literature and consulted experts in the field.

Selection criteria: 

Two review authors independently screened and selected studies for inclusion. We included randomised trials directly comparing the effects on outcomes and processes of care of PROMs feedback to healthcare professionals and patients, or both with the impact of not providing such information.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two groups of two authors independently extracted data from the included studies and evaluated study quality. We followed standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane and EPOC. We used the GRADE approach to assess the certainty of the evidence. We conducted meta-analyses of the results where possible.

Main results: 

We identified 116 randomised trials which assessed the effectiveness of PROMs feedback in improving processes or outcomes of care, or both in a broad range of disciplines including psychiatry, primary care, and oncology. Studies were conducted across diverse ambulatory primary and secondary care settings in North America, Europe and Australasia. A total of 49,785 patients were included across all the studies.

The certainty of the evidence varied between very low and moderate. Many of the studies included in the review were at risk of performance and detection bias.

The evidence suggests moderate certainty that PROMs feedback probably improves quality of life (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.15, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.05 to 0.26; 11 studies; 2687 participants), and leads to an increase in patient-physician communication (SMD 0.36, 95% CI 0.21 to 0.52; 5 studies; 658 participants), diagnosis and notation (risk ratio (RR) 1.73, 95% CI 1.44 to 2.08; 21 studies; 7223 participants), and disease control (RR 1.25, 95% CI 1.10 to 1.41; 14 studies; 2806 participants). The intervention probably makes little or no difference for general health perceptions (SMD 0.04, 95% CI -0.17 to 0.24; 2 studies, 552 participants; low-certainty evidence), social functioning (SMD 0.02, 95% CI -0.06 to 0.09; 15 studies; 2632 participants; moderate-certainty evidence), and pain (SMD 0.00, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.08; 9 studies; 2386 participants; moderate-certainty evidence). We are uncertain about the effect of PROMs feedback on physical functioning (14 studies; 2788 participants) and mental functioning (34 studies; 7782 participants), as well as fatigue (4 studies; 741 participants), as the certainty of the evidence was very low. We did not find studies reporting on adverse effects defined as distress following or related to PROM completion.