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17.4.1  Validity of instruments

Validity has to do with whether the instrument is measuring what it is intended to measure. Empirical evidence that PROs measure the domains of interest allows strong inferences regarding validity. To provide such evidence, investigators have borrowed validation strategies from psychologists who for many years have struggled with determining whether questionnaires assessing intelligence and attitudes really measure what is intended.


Validation strategies include:


Establishing validity involves examining the logical relationships that should exist between assessment measures. For example, we would expect that patients with lower treadmill exercise capacity generally will have more shortness of breath in daily life than those with higher exercise capacity, and we would expect to see substantial correlations between a new measure of emotional function and existing emotional function questionnaires.


When we are interested in evaluating change over time, we examine correlations of change scores. For example, patients who deteriorate in their treadmill exercise capacity should, in general, show increases in dyspnoea, whereas those whose exercise capacity improves should experience less dyspnoea. Similarly, a new emotional function measure should show improvement in patients who improve on existing measures of emotional function. The technical term for this process is testing an instrument’s construct validity.


Review authors should look for, and evaluate the evidence of, the validity of PROs used in their included studies. Unfortunately, reports of randomized trials and other studies using PROs seldom review evidence of the validity of the instruments they use, but review authors can gain some reassurance from statements (backed by citations) that the questionnaires have been validated previously.


A final concern about validity arises if the measurement instrument is used with a different population, or in a culturally and linguistically different environment, than the one in which it was developed (typically, use of a non-English version of an English-language questionnaire). Ideally, one would have evidence of validity in the population enrolled in the randomized trial. Ideally PRO measures should be re-validated in each study using whatever data are available for the validation, for instance, other endpoints measured. Authors should note, in evaluating evidence of validity, when the population assessed in the trial is different from that used in validation studies.