What Is an Illness Perception Questionnaire?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2019
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An Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ) collects information about how a patient feels in regard to a medical condition. This can be useful for individual patient care, where understanding the patient’s emotions may help a care provider more clearly communicate information and offer treatment. It is also used in studies and analysis to learn more about populations of specific patients and how they perceive their illnesses. For example, a researcher may find that patients with a particular condition widely believe it is curable and of short duration, which might be a problem if this is not the case.

Five separate subject areas are covered in an illness perception questionnaire to create a complete picture. The first is identity, determining how a patient labels an illness and what the patient associates with it. Someone with asthma, for example, might identify with that diagnosis and indicate that symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath are part of the illness. Another issue is the patient’s perception of the cause; the asthmatic patient might believe it’s genetic, related to environmental pollution, or caused by something else, for instance.


Researchers are also interested in how the patient perceives measures for controlling or curing illness. An illness perception questionnaire can determine whether a patient thinks a condition is curable, or if the focus is primarily on control. Asthma patients might believe they can grow out of the illness or resolve it, for instance, or that it is a chronic condition that will require ongoing monitoring and treatment. This can feed directly into the fourth area of interest, the patient’s perception of the duration of the illness.

Finally, an illness perception questionnaire also looks at the perceived consequences of the illness. People who believe their conditions are curable and of short duration might not believe that serious consequences are a concern. Others with chronic illnesses might consider long-term problems they may encounter. The asthmatic patient might be concerned about declining lung function, increased risk of pulmonary infections, and inability to exercise and engage in favorite activities.

Understanding perceptions of illness in particular patient populations can be important for prevention, treatment, and interventions, because it provides information about general attitudes. In an individual case, the illness perception questionnaire can help a care provider identify specific areas where a patient may need education and information. Someone may think a condition is chronic when it is not, for instance; in this case the doctor needs to communicate more clearly to provide reassurance.


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