Current best practices in Distress Screening

Earlier this month, a group of oncology social workers joined me at the Research and Training Institute in Philadelphia to attend a training workshop addressing the current best practices in distress screening.  This esteemed group of thirty represented the Social Work Oncology Group (SWOG) which includes social workers from across the Delaware Valley.  I was thrilled to be with them and to present on “From Distress Guidelines to Developing Models of Integrated Psychosocial Care.”

We anchored our discussion around the American College of Surgeon’s Commission on Cancer (COC) accreditation standard for distress screening and referral.  Although there are well-developed practice guidelines for developing distress management programs, few models exist that describe how to design, implement and sustain delivery of integrated social and emotional distress screening and care for cancer survivors.  We reviewed examples of best practices from four diverse demonstration projects, including Cancer Support Community’s CancerSupportSourceSM, an integrated, web-based distress screening program which was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal.  Discussion focused on common barriers to implementation of distress screening and strategies to overcome these barriers.  The barriers to screening and intervention range from the individual personal and professional characteristics of health care providers to environmental and organizational constraints.

There was rich exchange as the attendees also shared their own efforts to meet the new COC patient-centered mandates within their institutions which require all accredited cancer centers to screen for social and emotional distress by the year 2015.  Kathleen Coyne, Program Director of CSC Philadelphia encouraged members of SWOG to find ways to continue to support each other as they develop and refine distress screening programs at their respective institutions and hospitals.

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