As a young psychologist in the 1970s, David Cella, PhD, noticed that there were virtually no instruments to gauge how his cancer patients were functioning mentally and physically. That's when he embarked on a path to develop a quality-of-life measurement system for people with cancer and other chronic diseases. That interest has led to Cella's heading two efforts in which psychological expertise is informing health-outcomes research and practice. He is a principal investigator of PROMIS and he is the inaugural chair of the new department of medical social sciences at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, which will focus on health measurement, quality-of-life measures and outcomes science.
Psychologist Dennis Turk, PhD, a leading pain expert at the University of Washington, says Cella is the ideal choice for both jobs. "He has both a background in classical psychometrics and in the new statistical approach used in the initiative, as well as an ability to bring people together"—important, because the NIH effort is trying an approach that has the potential to revolutionize health-care assessment by replacing myriad questionnaires with a single common approach.
Cella hopes the effort will eventually allow clinicians and researchers to communicate about these findings with the same precision they discuss laboratory findings like hemoglobin levels or blood pressure readings. He also hopes they give patient-reported outcomes a more prominent place in research and treatment.
"As far as I'm concerned, patient-reported outcomes are the bottom line," says Cella. "With chronic health conditions, it's all about quality of life."