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How Do Distress Tests Impact Cancer Care Providers?

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, PhD
A study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network has found that screening for distress tests improves provider confidence and awareness toward person-centered care.
Screening for distress (SFD) tests improve the quality of care for patients with cancer, but how do they impact the care provider? A study published in the Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network has found that SFD tests improved care provider confidence and awareness toward person-centered care.

Being diagnosed with cancer is a significant source of stress for patients, which can impact their well-being and cause psychosocial problems, ultimately affecting their clinical response to treatment.

“Distress can be caused by a variety of issues, concerns, or symptoms, but how distress is experienced and what underlies a person’s distress is unique to each person and changes over time,” Linda Watson, PhD, RN, senior author of the study, said in a statement. “The SFD helps clinicians identify distressed patients and their issues, concerns, or symptoms driving their distress.”

To examine how distress affects both patients and their healthcare providers, researchers at CancerControl Alberta, in Canada, conducted pre- and post evaluation of the impact of implementing SFD. The researchers recruited 254 care providers (cohort 1) from across 17 facilities across the province to complete questionnaires. Following a 10-month implementation period of SFD as standard-of-care, 157 providers (cohort 2) filled out post-implementation questionnaires. The impact of navigators at regional and community cancer centers, where they help with implementing SFD, was also evaluated.

Following analysis of the questionnaires, the authors found a surge in provider confidence in managing distress among cancer patients. Providers in cohort 2, who took the evaluation following implementation of the SFD, reported greater awareness about person-centered care. This was especially true among providers who practiced at smaller community cancer centers, compared with their colleagues at larger tertiary sites.

“We have found that utilizing a SFD tool that spans the physical, emotional, social, spiritual, practical, and informational domains has been helpful as it reflects the whole patient experience,” Watson said. “It has been our experience that using a tool that helps the patient to specify their particular area of concern facilitates meaningful interventions,” she added.

The study noted that the presence of site-based navigators and caring for patients diagnosed with a different tumor types also influenced outcomes. The SFD was more beneficial for providers who cared for patients with diverse tumor types, suggesting that such intervention is well adopted by physicians who practice as generalist model of care.


Tamagawa R, Groff S, Anderson J, et al. Effects of a provincial-wide implementation of screening for distress on healthcare professionals’ confidence and understanding of person-centered care in oncology. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2016;14:1259-1266. 

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