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Implementing a Distress Screening Instrument in a University Breast Cancer Clinic

Linda Sue Hammonds
CJON 2012, 16(5), 491-494 DOI: 10.1188/12.CJON.491-494

Distress remains a pervasive experience of patients with cancer. As a result, a quality improvement project was conducted in the breast cancer clinic of a university cancer center in the midwestern United States. Nurses identified a need to increase identification of distress over a six-month period when they made only eight referrals for distress support during 1,291 patient encounters. The eight referrals were the result of patient exhibitions of severe distress in the clinic. To increase identification of distress, as well as referrals for support before patients exhibited severe distress, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network's Distress Thermometer screening tool was implemented in the clinic from June 1 through July 6, 2010. The instrument was completed by each participant during a patient encounter, followed by a review of the responses with a nurse. Referrals for support were offered by nurses when responses indicated a significant level of distress. Nurses increased identification of distress by using the instrument. In addition, referrals for support increased before patients exhibited severe distress. Nurses are positioned to improve care by identifying distress and making referrals for support.

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