Cancer Care Professionals' Attitudes Toward Systematic Standardized Symptom Assessment and the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System After Large-Scale Population-Based Implementation in Ontario, Canada
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CONTEXT: Cancer patients experience a high symptom burden throughout their illness. Despite this, patients' symptoms and needs are often not adequately screened for, assessed, and managed. OBJECTIVES: This study investigated the attitudes of cancer care professionals toward standardized systematic symptom assessment and the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) and their self-reported use of the instrument in daily practice in a large healthcare jurisdiction where this is routine. METHODS: A 21-item electronic survey, eliciting both closed and open-ended anonymous responses, was distributed to all 2806 cancer care professionals from four major provider groups: physicians, nurses, radiotherapists, and psychosocial oncology (PSO) staff at the 14 Regional Cancer Centres across Ontario, Canada. RESULTS: A total of 1065 questionnaires were returned (response rate: 38%); 960 were eligible for analysis. Most respondents (88%) considered symptom management to be within their scope of practice. Sixty-six percent of physicians considered the use of standardized tools to screen for symptoms as "best practice," compared to 81% and 93% of nurses and PSO staff, respectively. Sixty-seven percent of physicians and 85% of nurses found the ESAS to be a useful starting point to assess patients' symptoms. Seventy-nine percent of physicians looked at their patient's ESAS scores at visits either "always" or "often," compared to 29%, 66%, and 89% of radiotherapists, PSO staff, and nurses, respectively. Several areas for improvement of ESAS use and symptom screening were identified. CONCLUSION: Findings show significant albeit variable uptake across disciplines in the use of the ESAS since program initiation. Several barriers to using the ESAS in daily practice were identified. These need to be addressed.
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