Results Summary

PCORI funded the Pilot Projects to explore how to conduct and use patient-centered outcomes research in ways that can better serve patients and the healthcare community. Learn more.


Understanding what matters to patients is important for providing patient-centered care. The Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS®) is a survey that asks patients what they are able to do in daily life and how they feel. PROMIS has been used for many health conditions. For people with substance use disorders, doctors need to understand how patients are feeling over extended periods in order to best treat them. Short and simple surveys like PROMIS may help doctors quickly understand how patients are feeling compared with their previous visits and plan treatment accordingly.

Project Purpose

The project’s goal was to determine whether the PROMIS alcohol use survey would help doctors and patients understand patients’ alcohol use and quality of life. The project also tested how PROMIS compares with other alcohol surveys that doctors already use and whether PROMIS tracks patients’ changes over time.


The researchers enrolled 225 people in the study. Participants were 18 years old or older and had recently joined an outpatient substance use treatment program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. People with health conditions that might affect their ability to think clearly were not in the study.

Participants answered questions from PROMIS on a computer three times: when the study started, one month later, and three months later. The survey asked about alcohol use, emotions, sleep, pain, and other aspects of health.

To help researchers compare PROMIS with other surveys, participants took five other surveys that asked about alcohol use. They also answered questions about their personal characteristics (such as age and gender) and health history.

Researchers asked a smaller group of participants to take part in interviews twice during the study. During the interviews, the researchers gave participants the results of their PROMIS surveys and asked whether

  • The results would help them with treatment
  • They would be comfortable talking to their doctor about the results
  • The survey asked about topics that were important to their treatment
  • They had suggestions for improving the PROMIS survey design

Researchers also interviewed participants’ doctors about the PROMIS survey results. After the interviews, participants and their doctors rated how important each part of the survey was.

Researchers examined each participant’s scores on the surveys and any change in scores from the beginning to the end of the study. They then examined whether the PROMIS alcohol use survey measured alcohol use in the same way that the other five surveys did. Researchers also examined any links between participants’ personal characteristics—such as their age, gender, or health history—and their initial alcohol use or how it changed over time.


Participants’ survey answers did not change very much during the three-month study. The survey responses showed tighter links between personal characteristics and how serious someone’s alcohol use disorder was than between personal characteristics and the likelihood of reducing or stopping alcohol use quickly. Researchers also found that the PROMIS survey results were similar to other alcohol use surveys that doctors use. Talking to patients during the interviews and presenting them with graphs displaying scores for many different parts of their health, including alcohol use, were useful ways to get across important information about what to focus on in treatment. Participants and doctors both said that alcohol use was the most important topic in the survey. The most important nonalcohol topics were depression, anxiety (worry), and emotional support.


To use the PROMIS alcohol use survey, researchers needed to be at the clinic, so it was difficult to plan times that worked for everyone. Doctors and other staff may be too busy to give patients surveys, which could make it hard to use them at other clinics and doctors’ offices.

This was not a randomized controlled study. Doing such a study might provide better evidence about whether this kind of feedback is helpful in practice.


The short, simple PROMIS survey gave results similar to other alcohol use surveys that doctors use. Patients and doctors agreed that reviewing the PROMIS scores in a graph format and seeing patients’ responses to certain survey items helped them figure out what to focus on when making plans for treatment. This study also showed that taking the PROMIS alcohol use survey on a computer gave an accurate picture of patients’ alcohol use.

Sharing the Results

The research team has written articles for medical journals (see below) about the results of the study.

Project Information

Paul A. Pilkonis, PhD
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Evaluating PROMIS Instruments and Methods for PCOR: Substance Use Treatment

Key Dates

June 2012
June 2015

Study Registration Information


Has Results
Award Type
Funding Type
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: March 4, 2022