Background In dermatological research and clinical practice it is important to evaluate the burden of the disease. Objective To assess whether the 12-item Short Form of the Medical Outcomes Study (SF-12) could yield a valid description of the health status of a large number of dermatological outpatients. Methods The SF-12 and the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) were utilized. Questionnaires were self-completed by the outpatients in the waiting rooms. At the end of the visit the dermatologists recorded the diagnosis and the evaluation of the clinical severity. Results Data were complete for 2499 patients. We observed a reduction in the Physical Component Summary score (PCS-12) with increasing age, while the Mental Component Summary score (MCS-12) was stable. PCS-12 and MCS-12 scores were worse in women. Twenty-three per cent of patients were identified as GHQ-12 positive. GHQ-12-positive patients ('cases') had lower PCS-12 and MCS-12 scores compared with GHQ-12-negative patients (mean ± SD, PCS-12: 47·9 ± 10·8 vs. 52·2 ± 6·6; MCS-12: 35·2 ± 10·2 vs. 50·9 ± 78·3, respectively). High correlations between the MCS-12 score and the GHQ-12 were documented overall (-0·690, P <0·001) and for single skin diseases. Conclusions The impact of dermatological diseases is high for the mental components of health status; the mean scores for MCS-12 were low, and lower in patients identified as GHQ-12 'cases'. The picture of the general health status of patients with skin diseases given by the SF-12 allows meaningful comparisons both within dermatological conditions and with diseases in other specialties, as well as within categories of clinical severity and psychological well-being in single skin conditions.
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