Background: The electronic self report assessment - cancer (ESRA-C), has been shown to reduce symptom distress during cancer therapy The purpose of this analysis was to evaluate aspects of how the ESRA-C intervention may have resulted in lower symptom distress (SD).
Methods: Patients at two cancer centers were randomized to ESRA-C assessment only (control) or the Web-based ESRA-C intervention delivered to patients' homes or to a tablet in clinic. The intervention allowed patients to self-monitor symptom and quality of life (SxQOL) between visits, receive self-care education and coaching to report SxQOL to clinicians. Summaries of assessments were delivered to clinicians in both groups. Audio-recordings of clinic visits made 6 weeks after treatment initiation were coded for discussions of 26 SxQOL issues, focusing on patients'/caregivers' coached verbal reports of SxQOL severity, pattern, alleviating/aggravating factors and requests for help. Among issues identified as problematic, two measures were defined for each patient: the percent SxQOL reported that included a coached statement, and an index of verbalized coached statements per SxQOL. The Wilcoxon rank test was used to compare measures between groups. Clinician responses to problematic SxQOL were compared. A mediation analysis was conducted, exploring the effect of verbal reports on SD outcomes.
Results: 517 (256 intervention) clinic visits were audio-recorded. General discussion of problematic SxQOL was similar in both groups. Control group patients reported a median 75% of problematic SxQOL using any specific coached statement compared to a median 85% in the intervention group (p = .0009). The median report index of coached statements was 0.25 for the control group and 0.31 for the intervention group (p = 0.008). Fatigue, pain and physical function issues were reported significantly more often in the intervention group (all p < .05). Clinicians' verbalized responses did not differ between groups. Patients' verbal reports did not mediate final SD outcomes (p = .41).
Conclusions: Adding electronically-delivered, self-care instructions and communication coaching to ESRA-C promoted specific patient descriptions of problematic SxQOL issues compared with ESRA-C assessment alone. However, clinician verbal responses were no different and subsequent symptom distress group differences were not mediated by the patients' reports.
Trial registration: NCT00852852; 26 Feb 2009.