STUDY OBJECTIVE: To examine the short form 36 (SF-36) health status measure when used to assess older people's views of the outcome of community based health care. DESIGN: Completion of a structured questionnaire, before and after intervention alongside in-depth interviews with a subsample of the interviewees. SETTING: Community based continence and mental health services in two health authorities in the North West Health Region. PATIENTS: Forty seven older people newly referred to mental health services or continence services between December 1992 and April 1993 participated. MAIN RESULTS: The SF-36 showed minimal change over time for both patient groups. The more detailed in-depth interviews showed that people experienced positive changes and derived value from contact with services in a number of important ways. For many reasons these benefits were not reflected in their SF-36 scores. CONCLUSIONS: The SF-36 is not likely to be the "measure of choice" for this type of evaluation, particularly where it involves older patient groups who have high levels of comorbidity. The content of the SF-36 and its lack of detail for individual assessment of change means it masks rather than illuminates patients' views of outcome.
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