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Detecting short-term change and variation in health-related quality of life: within- and between-person factor structure of the SF-36 health survey



A major goal of much aging-related research and geriatric medicine is to identify early changes in health and functioning before serious limitations develop. To this end, regular collection of patient-reported outcome measure (PROMs) in a clinical setting may be useful to identify and monitor these changes. However, existing PROMs were not designed for repeated administration and are more commonly used as one-time screening tools; as such, their ability to detect variation and measurement properties when administered repeatedly remain unknown. In this study we evaluated the potential of the RAND SF-36 Health Survey as a repeated-use PROM by examining its measurement properties when modified for administration over multiple occasions.


To distinguish between-person (i.e., average) from within-person (i.e., occasion) levels, the SF-36 Health Survey was completed by a sample of older adults (N = 122, M age  = 66.28 years) daily for seven consecutive days. Multilevel confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was employed to investigate the factor structure at both levels for two- and eight-factor solutions.


Multilevel CFA models revealed that the correlated eight-factor solution provided better model fit than the two-factor solution at both the between-person and within-person levels. Overall model fit for the SF-36 Health Survey administered daily was not substantially different from standard survey administration, though both were below optimal levels as reported in the literature. However, individual subscales did demonstrate good reliability.


Many of the subscales of the modified SF-36 for repeated daily assessment were found to be sufficiently reliable for use in repeated measurement designs incorporating PROMs, though the overall scale may not be optimal. We encourage future work to investigate the utility of the subscales in specific contexts, as well as the measurement properties of other existing PROMs when administered in a repeated measures design. The development and integration of new measures for this purpose may ultimately be necessary.

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