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Quality of life – how do you compare?

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10 March 2016

Quality of life

The fast pace of life leaves many Australians unaware of health and social aspects that may be affecting their quality of life. The Centre for Health Economics at Monash Business School has opened its Assessment of Quality of Life (AQoL) measurement tool to the public, giving people a valuable opportunity for self-reflection. 

Initially developed for use by economists and health providers, the tool allows users to compare their quality of life to that of other Australians, explains Professor Jeff Richardson, foundation director of the Centre for Health Economics and creator of the AQoL tool and website. 

“It’s basically a survey that takes people through a range of questions about their health. Their answers are then compared to those provided by a 7,000 strong survey group to work out how their quality of life compares,” said Professor Richardson. 

The tool is divided into eight dimensions, including independent living, pain, happiness, self-worth and relationships. For each dimension, the user is asked to answer a number of questions about their every-day life. These vary from ‘how much help do you need around the house?’ to ‘how often do you feel socially isolated?’ 

Other tools, such as the widely used EQ-5D, only ask people a handful of questions, and there is only one question that focusses on mental health. The AQoL, on the other hand, has a strong focus on mental health and separates it from happiness, coping and self-worth.

This is important when assessing the economic value of new pharmaceuticals, for example. Every new drug that a pharmaceutical company wishes to bring onto the market, needs to undergo an economic evaluation and a clinical trial. This means that a group of people are provided the drug and are then asked to answer questions about their quality of life. The same is done with a control group which is not using the drug.

The outcome of this evaluation will determine a drug’s economic value and whether it represents value for money by the Australian authorities. When you don’t take someone’s mental health into consideration in this process, your results are likely to be skewed, Professor Richardson explained.

“For example, someone may experience less physical pain in their day-to-day life and therefore the drug could be classed as beneficial. However, when this same person is reporting serious mental health side effects, you may want to reconsider the impact which the drug has on quality of life. Similarly drugs designed to improve mental health are likely to be undervalued by tools such as the EQ-5D and this is the gap that our tool sought to address.”

The survey has produced some interesting results. For example, scores for happiness, mental health and self-worth seem to decline for most people from their mid-twenties through to their mid-forties, only to pick up again in their fifties through to their seventies.

“It is difficult to put an objective number on a person’s happiness or quality of life. However, our AQoL tool provides a person with some broad comparisons with other people and it might give people a chance for self-reflection,” concludes Professor Richardson.

The AQoL survey is available on the Centre for Health Economics website. It only takes about seven minutes to complete and users will be provided with a personalised report to show how they compare to others across all eight dimensions.