The Concept of Clinically Meaningful Difference in Health-Related Quality-of-Life Research

Published in: PharmacoEconomics, v. 18, no. 5, Nov. 2000, p. 419-423

by Ron D. Hays, J. Michael Woolley

Read More

Access further information on this document at

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

It is generally believed that small differences in health-related quality of life (HR-QOL) may be statistically significant yet clinically unimportant. The concept of the minimal clinically meaningful difference (MCID) has been proposed to refer to the smallest difference in a HR-QOL score that is considered to be worthwhile or clinically important. However, there is danger in oversimplification in asking the question: what is the MCID on this HR-QOL instrument? The authors argue that the attempt to define a single MCID is problematic for a number of reasons and recommend caution in the search for the MCID holy grail. Specifically, absolute thresholds are suspect because they ignore the cost or resources required to produce a change in HR-QOL. In addition, there are several practical problems in estimating the MCID, including: (i) the estimated magnitude varies depending on the distributional index and the external standard or anchor; (ii) the amount of change might depend on the direction of change; and (iii) the meaning of change depends on where you start (baseline value).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.