Every patient at UC Davis is now screened for signs of distress. Cancer center social worker Angie Usher answers some questions about the distress screening program and how it’s helping patients get the support they need.
What is supportive care screening?
A: Screening for distress helps us identify patients with emotional, social and/or quality-of-life concerns. This process can quickly identify cancer patients at risk for psycho-social issues that can hamper successful cancer treatment. Screening begins with the Supportive Care Screening Questionnaire, which was modeled on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network screen. The guiding principle is to get to know what is most important to our patients, and provide support, information and resources to help them adjust and cope.
Has distress screening always been used in the cancer setting?
A: No. Although many cancer centers offer some psycho-social support to patients, distress screening was not required until 2015. Prior to that, the vast majority of cancer patients experiencing significant stress were not identified during routine oncology visits.
What have you learned since implementing the screening process?
A: We are learning that both patients and psycho-social care providers benefit the most with a simple screen done frequently throughout treatment. As new research emerges, we will refine our screening tools.
Nationally, distress screening has led to getting patients psycho-social support more quickly. Prior to 2015, it took about two weeks before a patient could see a social worker. With distress screening, that time has been cut almost in half. Some patients still express frustration that the screen may not address their specific concerns, or that it asks questions about problems for which there is no solution.
At UC Davis we want to be sensitive and responsive to patients’ screening concerns, and we will continue to follow national research to stay current on the best possible approaches to screening to meet patient needs.
What do you do with the information you get from screening?
A: We note patients whose screens indicate significant distress. Those with a score of five or above in the emotional, social or practical need categories are flagged and a social worker quickly contacts the patient.
Typically, the most stressful times in coping with cancer are at initial diagnosis, the start of any new treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc.) and at the end of treatment. It is important that we have supportive programs that effectively help patients and their families through all of the phases of cancer treatment. We also track trends using data collected from all of our patients to better guide overall program development.
Any feedback from patients that you can share?
A: Many patients appreciate being contacted and educated about the supportive programs available to help them and their loved ones adjust to and cope with cancer and treatment.
We offer short-term individual cancer-coping counseling provided by a licensed clinical social worker. We also have disease-specific counseling groups and hope to grow these programs over the next year. Our peer navigators can also help patients through the initial shock of diagnosis and with adjusting to treatment.
To find out more about supportive care screening or counseling, please call 916-734-5959 and ask to speak to a social worker.