Estimating meaningful thresholds for multi-item questionnaires using item response theory

Berend Terluin*, Jaimy E. Koopman, Lisa Hoogendam, Pip Griffiths, Caroline B. Terwee, Jakob B. Bjorner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Meaningful thresholds are needed to interpret patient-reported outcome measure (PROM) results. This paper introduces a new method, based on item response theory (IRT), to estimate such thresholds. The performance of the method is examined in simulated datasets and two real datasets, and compared with other methods. Methods: The IRT method involves fitting an IRT model to the PROM items and an anchor item indicating the criterion state of interest. The difficulty parameter of the anchor item represents the meaningful threshold on the latent trait. The latent threshold is then linked to the corresponding expected PROM score. We simulated 4500 item response datasets to a 10-item PROM, and an anchor item. The datasets varied with respect to the mean and standard deviation of the latent trait, and the reliability of the anchor item. The real datasets consisted of a depression scale with a clinical depression diagnosis as anchor variable and a pain scale with a patient acceptable symptom state (PASS) question as anchor variable. Results: The new IRT method recovered the true thresholds accurately across the simulated datasets. The other methods, except one, produced biased threshold estimates if the state prevalence was smaller or greater than 0.5. The adjusted predictive modeling method matched the new IRT method (also in the real datasets) but showed some residual bias if the prevalence was smaller than 0.3 or greater than 0.7. Conclusions: The new IRT method perfectly recovers meaningful (interpretational) thresholds for multi-item questionnaires, provided that the data satisfy the assumptions for IRT analysis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1819-1830
Number of pages12
JournalQuality of Life Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023

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Publisher Copyright: © 2023, The Author(s).


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