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Insight into the change from pre- to post-injury health-related quality of life (HRQL) of trauma patients is important to derive estimates of the impact of injury on HRQL. Prospectively collected pre-injury HRQL data are, however, often not available due to the difficulty to collect these data before the injury. We performed a systematic review on the current methods used to assess pre-injury health status and to estimate the change from pre- to post-injury HRQL due to an injury.
A systematic literature search was conducted in EMBASE, MEDLINE, and other databases. We identified studies that reported on the pre-injury HRQL of trauma patients. Articles were collated by type of injury and HRQL instrument used. Reported pre-injury HRQL scores were compared with general age- and gender-adjusted norms for the EQ-5D, SF-36, and SF-12.
We retrieved results from 31 eligible studies, described in 41 publications. All but two studies used retrospective assessment and asked patients to recall their pre-injury HRQL, showing widely varying timings of assessments (soon after injury up to years after injury). These studies commonly applied the SF-36 (n = 13), EQ-5D (n = 9), or SF-12 (n = 3) using questionnaires (n = 14) or face-to-face interviews (n = 11). Two studies reported prospective pre-injury assessment, based on prospective longitudinal cohort studies from a sample of initially non-injured patients, and applied questionnaires using the SF-36 or SF-12. The recalled pre-injury HRQL scores of injury patients consistently exceeded age- and sex-adjusted population norms, except in a limited number of studies on injury types of higher severity (e.g., traumatic brain injury and hip fractures). All studies reported reduced post-injury HRQL compared to pre-injury HRQL. Both prospective studies reported that patients had recovered to their pre-injury levels of physical and mental health, while in all but one retrospective study patients did not regain the reported pre-injury levels of HRQL, even years after injury.
So far, primarily retrospective research has been conducted to assess pre-injury HRQL. This research shows consistently higher pre-injury HRQL scores than population norms and a recovery that lags behind that of prospective assessments, implying a systematic overestimation of the change in HRQL from pre- to post-injury due to an injury. More prospective research is necessary to examine the effect of recall bias and response shift. Researchers should be aware of the bias that may arise when pre-injury HRQL is assessed retrospectively or when population norms are applied, and should use prospectively derived HRQL scores wherever possible to estimate the impact of injury on HRQL.