Background The Assessment of Quality of Life (AQoL) utility instrument was psychometrically developed for the general population. This study aimed to explore its potential as an osteoarthritis (OA) outcome measure. Methods WOMAC, Lequesne index, SF-36, Visual analogue scales and the AQoL were administered to 222 people with OA. The ability of each questionnaire to detect differences between groups was based on (i) self-rated health (SRH) and, (ii) differences between people on an orthopedic waiting list (WL) vs people with OA in the community (C). Comparisons included effect size, relative efficiency and receiver operator characteristic curves. Results All instruments detected differences between groups; however no one instrument exhibited superior efficiency. The AQoL demonstrated strong psychometric properties. Conclusion The AQoL has equivalent performance to comparator questionnaires commonly used in OA research and would be a useful adjunct to well-established disease specific scales. The AQoL has important advantages; brevity (12 items), facilitates comparisons between disease groups, and delivers a utility score that can be used in health economic evaluations.