Background: As more oncology care is moved to the outpatient setting, the need for a rapid means for oncologists to identify patients with significant distress has increased. Concurrent with this move has been the pressure to reduce time spent with each patient, adding to the likelihood that a distressed patient will not be recognized and will remain untreated in the current health care environment.
Methods: A pilot program was conducted in a prostate carcinoma oncology clinic to test the feasibility of a two-stage approach that identifies patients in significant distress and refers them for treatment. Two pencil and paper self-report measures were used to detect psychologic distress in patients over the previous week: 1) The Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and 2) "The Distress Thermometer." Patients who scored above an agreed upon cutoff score on either measure (HADS = 15+; Thermometer = 5+) were referred to the psychiatric liaison in the clinic for evaluation.
Results: Compliance in filling out the measures was excellent; only 8 of 121 patients (6.6%) refused. Thirty-one percent of evaluable patients were referred based on elevated scores. Seventeen of 29 patients actually were evaluated. Eight of 17 patients met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (of Mental Disorders)-IV criteria for a psychiatric disorder.
Conclusions: This approach for rapid screening for distress was acceptable in prostate carcinoma patients, although these older men were reluctant to agree to evaluation and treatment. This simple screening method needs further testing and the identification of barriers on the part of the patient and oncologist that impede the identification of the most distressed patients.