Doctors Track Patients' Mood, Social Life to Manage Illness

When Amy Messier was preparing to undergo back surgery, doctors asked her to fill out a survey with an unusual question: "Have you felt so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up?"

Many medical conditions significantly affect the quality of a patient's emotional and social life, which often isn't apparent from physical measurements and lab tests alone. Now, more doctors are inquiring about their patients' pain, difficulty accomplishing everyday activities, embarrassment about a condition and other issues that physicians traditionally haven't considered. The insights can help determine how aggressively to treat an illness and what alternative therapies to offer certain patients, health-care experts say.

"We are trying to define health not just in the degree of rotation you have in your new knee, but can you walk your grandson to the school bus and do the things that make your life full and meaningful," says Martha Bayliss, a vice president and senior scientist at QualityMetric, a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc. that designs questionnaires for use in various medical specialties.

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