Towards the assessment of quality of life in patients with disorders of consciousness
Quality of Life Research
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Purpose: To generate foundational knowledge in the creation of a quality-of-life instrument for patients who are clinically diagnosed as being in a vegetative or minimally conscious state but are able to communicate by modulating their brain activity (i.e., behaviourally nonresponsive and covertly aware). The study aimed to identify a short list of key domains that could be used to formulate questions for an instrument that determines their self-reported quality of life. Methods: A novel two-pronged strategy was employed: (i) a scoping review of quality-of-life instruments created for patient populations sharing some characteristics with patients who are behaviourally nonresponsive and covertly aware was done to compile a set of potentially relevant domains of quality of life; and (ii) a three-round Delphi consensus process with a multidisciplinary panel of experts was done to determine which of the identified domains of quality of life are most important to those who are behaviourally nonresponsive and covertly aware. Five expert groups were recruited for this study including healthcare workers, neuroscientists, bioethicists, quality-of-life methodologists, and patient advocates. Results: Thirty-five individuals participated in the study with an average response rate of 95% per round. Over the three rounds, experts reached consensus on 34 of 44 domains (42 domains were identified in the scoping review and two new domains were added based on suggestions by experts). 22 domains were rated as being important for inclusion in a quality-of-life instrument and 12 domains were deemed to be of less importance. Participants agreed that domains related to physical pain, communication, and personal relationships were of primary importance. Based on subgroup analyses, there was a high degree of consistency among expert groups. Conclusions: Quality of life should be a central patient-reported outcome in all patient populations regardless of patients’ ability to communicate. It remains to be determined how covertly aware patients perceive their circumstances and quality of life after suffering a life-altering injury. Nonetheless, it is important that any further dialogue on what constitutes a life worth living should not occur without direct patient input.