Why Clinicians May Want to Ask Patients to Rate Their Own Health

Low self-rated health is associated with worse immune system competence.

Could simply asking a patient to rate their health be an effective way to predict susceptibility to the common cold? A new study out of Carnegie Mellon University reports that low self-rated health is associated with worse immune system competence. Findings from the study were published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

In this study, 360 healthy adults were asked to assess their health as being excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor.  After being exposed to a cold virus and monitored for five days, about one-third of the subjects developed a cold. Those who rated their health as very good, good, or fair (none of the subjects reported poor health), were more than twice as likely to develop a cold than those who reported their health as excellent.  In addition, the association between better self-reported health and resistance to developing a cold was independent of health practices and socioemotional factors.

“There are some things that we know about our bodies that aren’t easily detectable by our physicians,” said Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty University Professor of Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “Our data suggest that this evaluation reflects how the immune system reacts to infectious agents.”

In an accompanying editorial, UCLA School of Medicine’s Hyong Jin Cho and Michael Irwin suggest that the results of the study raise the question of “whether self-rated health serves as a simple cost-effective screening tool for susceptibility to infectious or inflammatory disorders.”

For more information visit CMU.edu.