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Am J Public Health. 1991 Sep;81(9):1127-30.

Comparison of subjective ratings of function with observed functional ability of frail older persons.

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  • 1Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Tennessee Memphis 38163.



Important clinical decisions often hinge on patients' functional status. Previous studies have shown disagreement among sources of ratings of patients' functional status. This study compared patient self-ratings, family member ratings, and physician ratings of patient function to performance-based functional testing criteria.


Five activities of daily living of 73 older patients were studied at admission to a rehabilitation unit following discharge from an acute care community hospital. Data were collected from patients, family members, and physicians and were compared with performance-based function testing.


Patient ratings were significantly more accurate than physician ratings for walking, transferring, and telephoning. Patients were significantly more accurate than family members for rating walking and telephoning, but patients were not significantly more accurate than family members or physicians for rating eating or dressing.


We conclude that decisions about patients' functional level should be based on performance testing. If performance testing is unavailable, patients' own ratings are most accurate, followed by family ratings. Physicians' ratings are least accurate.

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