Computer-based symptom assessment is feasible in patients with advanced cancer: results from an international multicenter study, the EPCRC-CSA

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Nov;44(5):639-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.10.025. Epub 2012 Jul 13.


Context: Symptom assessment by computers is only effective if it provides valid results and is perceived as useful for clinical use by the end users: patients and health care providers.

Objectives: To identify factors associated with discontinuation, time expenditure, and patient preferences of the computerized symptom assessment used in an international multicenter data collection project: the European Palliative Care Research Collaborative-Computerized Symptom Assessment.

Methods: Cancer patients with incurable metastatic or locally advanced disease were recruited from 17 centers in eight countries, providing 1017 records for analyses. Observer-based registrations and patient-reported measures on pain, depression, and physical function were entered on touch screen laptop computers.

Results: The entire assessment was completed by 94.9% (n = 965), with median age 63 years (range 18-91 years) and median Karnofsky Performance Status (KPS) score of 70 (range 20-100). Predictive factors for noncompletion were higher age, lower KPS, and more pain (P ≤ 0.012). Time expenditure among completers increased with higher age, male gender, Norwegian nationality, number of comorbidities, and lower physical functioning (P ≤ 0.007) but was inversely related to pain levels and tiredness (P ≤ 0.03). Need for assistance was predicted by higher age, nationality other than Norwegian, lower KPS, and lower educational level (P < 0.001). More than 50% of patients preferred computerized assessment to a paper and pencil version.

Conclusion: The high completion rate shows that symptom assessment by computers is feasible in patients with advanced cancer. However, reduced performance status reduces compliance and increases the need for assistance. Future work should aim at identifying the minimum set of valid screening questions and refine the software to optimize symptom assessment and reduce respondent burden in frail patients.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Depression / etiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Karnofsky Performance Status
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Patient Preference
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Software
  • Young Adult