For his pioneering work to measure and apply patient-reported outcomes in health care, the National Academy of Medicine today awarded the Gustav O. Lienhard Award to David Cella, Ralph Seal Paffenbarger Professor and chair, department of medical social sciences, and director, Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes, Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The award, which recognizes Cella’s achievements with a medal and $40,000, was presented to him at the National Academy of Medicine’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
“Dr. Cella’s trailblazing work in investigating what matters to people seeking health care has paved the way for a better, more patient-centered approach to care,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau.
During his career Cella has made transformational contributions toward understanding what aspects of life matter most to people struggling with health conditions and measuring those aspects so that the information can be used to guide care. In 1985, he conducted in-depth interviews with cancer patients in order to develop questionnaires that could shed light on how cancer therapeutics were affecting patients’ lives, at a time when it was uncommon in oncology to ask patients how they were feeling. His efforts helped usher in an era in which it is common practice to include patient stakeholders both in the development of quality-of-life questionnaires and in the more general conduct of research and clinical care.
In addition, Cella was the first researcher to pioneer the use of item response theory (IRT) in health measurement, opening up new possibilities for accurately gauging patients’ symptoms, functioning, and perceptions of health and well-being. He also developed a score-linking approach that enabled comparisons of multiple patient-reported outcomes, unifying the measurement field around common metrics. Today, multiple health systems and facilities caring for millions of people use tools and measures developed by Cella and his close collaborators.
Cella is the 31st recipient of the Lienhard Award. Given annually, the award recognizes outstanding national achievement in improving personal health care in the United States. Nominees are eligible for consideration without regard to education or profession, and award recipients are selected by a committee of experts convened by the Academy. This year’s selection committee was chaired by David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund.
The Lienhard Award is funded by an endowment from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Gustav O. Lienhard was chair of the foundation’s board of trustees from the organization’s establishment in 1971 to his retirement in 1986 — a period in which the foundation moved to the forefront of American philanthropy in health care. Lienhard, who died in 1987, built his career with Johnson & Johnson, beginning as an accountant and retiring 39 years later as its president. Additional information about the Lienhard Award can be found here.