Goal setting is considered a key part of clinical rehabilitation for adults with disability, such as in rehabilitation following brain injuries, heart or lung diseases, mental health illnesses, or for injuries or illnesses involving bones and muscles. Health professionals use goals to provide targets for themselves and their clients to work towards. In this review we summarise studies that have investigated what effect, if any, goal setting activities have on achieving good health outcomes following rehabilitation.
This review found 39 studies published before December 2013, involving a total of 2846 participants receiving rehabilitation in a variety of countries and clinical situations. The studies used a wide range of different approaches to goal setting and tested the effectiveness of these approaches in a number of different ways. Overall these studies provide very low quality evidence that goal setting helps patients achieve a higher quality of life or sense of well-being and a higher belief in their own ability to achieve goals that they choose to pursue. There is currently no consistent evidence that goal setting improves people's functional abilities after rehabilitation or how hard they try with therapeutic interventions during rehabilitation.
Insufficient information exists to say whether goal setting increases or reduces the risk of adverse events (such as death or re-hospitalisation) for people involved in rehabilitation. Because of the variety of approaches to studying goal setting in rehabilitation and because of limitations in the design of many studies completed to date, it is very possible that future studies could change the conclusions of this review. We also need more research to improve our understanding of how components of the goal setting process (such as how difficult goals are, how goals of therapy should be selected and prioritised, how goals are used in clinical practice, and how feedback on progress towards goals should be provided) contribute or do not contribute to better health outcomes.