The terms subjective and objective often appear in health care records, and one commonly hears about “subjective symptoms” and “objective complaints”—yet the former is redundant and the latter an oxymoron. Objectively verifiable pathology may explain a patient's symptoms, but complaints themselves are never objective but rather, by definition, subjective. The AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA Guides), Sixth Edition, defines the terminology: Subjective information is more open to interpretation, but objective data are factual, reproducible, and often measurable or quantifiable. Objective findings generally have much higher inter-examiner reliability than subjective findings. Symptoms and most findings on physical (particularly neuromusculoskeletal) examination are subjective. Diagnostic study results and a minority of physical findings are objective. Some physical findings, such as strength and range of motion measurements, are both subjective and objective. Repeat testing, assessment of plausibility, and use of confirmatory physical findings can be used to validate or “objectify” subjective findings (eg, by determining if a weakness is corroborated by other neurologic or physical findings, imaging study results, and/or electrodiagnostic testing). The use of objective, or at least less subjective, findings in impairment rating should improve interrater reliability. Thus, evaluating physicians should not regard subjective complaints and findings, and they should lend greater weight to objective findings.

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