Strengths of distress screening identified by participants included identifying patient needs and testing provider assumptions. Staff indicated it improved patient-provider communication and other aspects of care. Challenges to distress screening included patient barriers (e.g., respondent burden) and lack of electronic system interoperability. Participants expressed the strengths of distress screening (n = 291) more than challenges (n = 86). Suggested improvements included use of technology to collect data, report results, and make referrals; complete screenings prior to appointments; longitudinal assessment; additional staff training; and improve resources to address patient needs.
We conducted, transcribed, and analyzed semi-structured interviews with 71 cancer care team members (e.g., MDs, RNs, MSWs) at 18 Commission on Cancer-accredited cancer programs including those serving underrepresented populations.
Cancer care team members' perspectives on well-established distress screening programs largely replicate findings of previous studies focusing on the startup phase, but there are important differences: team members expressed more strengths than challenges, suggesting a positive attitude. While our sample described many challenges described previously, they did not indicate challenges with scoring and interpreting the distress screening questionnaire. The differences in attitudes expressed in response to mature versus startup implementations provide important insights to inform efforts to sustain and optimize distress screening.
Cancer care team attitudes towards distress screening are key to its success and sustainability. Previous qualitative research has interviewed staff mostly around the startup phase. We evaluate oncology teams' perspectives on psychosocial distress screening, including perceived strengths and challenges, in settings where it has been operational for years.