Results Summary

What was the research about?

Information that patients provide about their health problems or treatments can help them and their clinicians, such as doctors and nurses, manage patients’ care. One type of information, called patient-reported outcomes, comes from surveys that ask patients how they are feeling and how bad their symptoms are. The surveys also ask patients how well they can function in daily life. The survey results help patients and clinicians track how patients are doing over time; they also help them make treatment decisions. Also, researchers can combine survey results from many patients. These results help researchers see how well treatments work to improve symptoms and well-being.

Patients and clinicians need to understand the survey results for them to be useful in treatment decisions. How well patients and clinicians understand results may depend on the display format of the results.

The study compared three ways to show survey results. The research team wanted to learn which display formats were the best understood. The team also wanted to learn which formats were clearest and most useful.

What were the results?

Displays to help patients track illness symptoms and their health. The research team displayed a series of line graphs that showed a patient’s symptoms and side effects over time. Patients, clinicians, and researchers thought these displays were clear and easy to understand when the graphs’ lines moved up to show better health for both symptoms and function. They found graphs less clear when lines moved up to show that the patient had more symptoms or side effects. They found it helpful when graphs included a line showing the point at which scores became concerning.

Displays to help patients compare treatment options. The research team also displayed bar charts, pie charts, and other displays to help patients choose between treatment options. The displays compared how different treatments affected symptoms and function. Among these displays, patients, clinicians, and researchers understood the pie charts best and found them the clearest and most useful in comparing treatments. For line graphs, they understood the information better when the lines moved up to show better health for both symptoms and function, compared with graphs that had lines that moved up to show that the patient had more symptoms or side effects.

Displays to help clinicians compare treatment options. The research team displayed bar charts, pie charts, and line graphs to help clinicians choose between treatment options. The displays compared how different treatments affected symptoms and function. The team added symbols to show when the differences between two treatments were important. For line graphs, clinicians and researchers liked having symbols to show when there were important differences between treatment choices. They found bar charts and pie charts equally clear.

Who was in the study?

The study included 1,256 cancer survivors and 608 cancer clinicians. The study also included 747 patient-reported outcomes researchers.

What did the research team do?

With input from patients and clinicians, the research team designed different types of displays of patient survey results. The team also used a survey to see if patients, clinicians, and researchers understood each graph correctly. The team also asked them how clear and useful each display was.

What were the limits of the study?

The study included patients with cancer whom the research team could reach easily through email and social media. Results might be different for patients who have other health problems or for cancer patients who couldn’t be easily reached through the internet.

How can people use the results?

These results could help researchers develop materials that help patients and clinicians track patients’ symptoms over time and also help them make treatment decisions. Researchers could use the results to choose which display graphs to use in research articles to help doctors understand patient-reported outcomes.

Final Research Report

View this project's final research report.

Peer-Review Summary

Peer review of PCORI-funded research helps make sure the report presents complete, balanced, and useful information about the research. It also confirms that the research has followed PCORI’s Methodology Standards. During peer review, experts who were not members of the research team read a draft report of the research. These experts may include a scientist focused on the research topic, a specialist in research methods, a patient or caregiver, and a healthcare professional. Reviewers do not have conflicts of interest with the study.

The peer reviewers point out where the draft report may need revision. For example, they may suggest ways to improve how the research team analyzed its results or reported its conclusions. Learn more about PCORI’s peer-review process here.

In response to peer review, Snyder made changes including

  • Discussing in more detail the role and influence of the stakeholder advisory board
  • Appending examples of the surveys used in the study
  • Adding detail about the presentation formats tested in Part 1 of the study
  • Expanding the study limitations section to discuss the limited generalizability of the findings given the limited diversity of the study sample
  • Providing more specific recommendations in the Conclusion section of the report

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Project Information

Claire Snyder, PhD
Johns Hopkins University
Presenting Patient-Reported Outcomes Data to Improve Patient and Clinician Understanding and Use

Key Dates

December 2012
May 2017

Study Registration Information


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Last updated: January 20, 2023