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Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2006 Aug 22;4:54.

Minimal changes in health status questionnaires: distinction between minimally detectable change and minimally important change.

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EMGO Institute, VU University Medical Center, Van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


Changes in scores on health status questionnaires are difficult to interpret. Several methods to determine minimally important changes (MICs) have been proposed which can broadly be divided in distribution-based and anchor-based methods. Comparisons of these methods have led to insight into essential differences between these approaches. Some authors have tried to come to a uniform measure for the MIC, such as 0.5 standard deviation and the value of one standard error of measurement (SEM). Others have emphasized the diversity of MIC values, depending on the type of anchor, the definition of minimal importance on the anchor, and characteristics of the disease under study. A closer look makes clear that some distribution-based methods have been merely focused on minimally detectable changes. For assessing minimally important changes, anchor-based methods are preferred, as they include a definition of what is minimally important. Acknowledging the distinction between minimally detectable and minimally important changes is useful, not only to avoid confusion among MIC methods, but also to gain information on two important benchmarks on the scale of a health status measurement instrument. Appreciating the distinction, it becomes possible to judge whether the minimally detectable change of a measurement instrument is sufficiently small to detect minimally important changes.

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