Guide for implementing screening for distress: The sixth vital sign

Read this 2012 report to learn the steps and considerations for screening patients for distress

This report gives the steps and considerations for screening cancer patients for distress. As well, the report offers strategies and techniques for implementing a screening program, based on learnings from nine jurisdictions. They were monitored and evaluated while implementing the Screening for Distress program.

Cancer presents not only physical but also emotional, social, informational, spiritual and practical challenges for patients and their families. The cancer journey often begins when a person first learns something might be wrong, and it can continue long after treatment. Throughout the journey, the person and their family will face many challenges. No two people will respond in the same manner. However, all will feel some degree of distress that may interfere with their ability to cope effectively.

The rates of significant distress reported in North America in 2004 were above 35 per cent throughout the cancer journey. As a result, distress has been recognized as the sixth vital sign to routinely monitor. The other signs are temperature, pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and pain.

The Partnership’s Person-Centred Perspective initiative is committed to improving the patient experience. We are working with partners across Canada to find the best ways to offer a person-centred perspective throughout a person’s cancer journey and to help information flow throughout. The impact of a cancer diagnosis goes far beyond the physical disease. It affects every aspect of a person’s life. The initiative has focused on reporting about the patient experience, and giving health-care providers patient-centred tools and resources, which have been validated and standardized.

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