Hospitals in the Delaware Valley and across the country will soon be required to screen cancer patients for psychological distress.
New requirements from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons will compel doctors to hand out surveys or ask their patients questions that reveal their emotional well-being.
The Commission accredits hospitals that treat about 70 percent of new cancer patients.
New Jersey’s Commission chair Dr. Jarrod Kaufman said the patients at those hospitals will then be referred to mental health services if necessary.
“Psychosocial distress can affect negatively the patients’ ability to fully receive treatment,” Kaufman said. “There are some data that suggests also that it can negatively impact people’s immune systems, but long-term, there’s no question that this has been something that has been under-recognized and under-treated.”
The idea that cancer takes an emotional toll on patients is not new, but research shows relatively few providers have a system in place to measure its impact.
A 2007 study of 1,000 oncologists showed that only 14 percent used a specific screening tool with their patients to measure emotional distress.
Dr. David Berg is a colorectal surgeon at Lourdes Health System, where he said patients are already filling out questionnaires that measure their emotional well-being.
“Depending on their score on this assessment tool that the oncologists use, they would be either referred to a social worker,” Berg said, “(or) they could be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist if needed.”
Psychological distress can interfere with cancer treatments and worsen survival outcomes.
The new guidelines will become mandatory in 2015.