The Benefits and Challenges of Using Computer-Assisted Symptom Assessments in Oncology Clinics: results of a qualitative assessment
Developed for clinical use in oncology settings, the Patient Assessment, Care & Education (PACE) System is a computer technology tool designed to address the under-identification and treatment of chemotherapy-related symptoms. This system includes general core questions together with the Patient Care Monitor (PCM), a validated questionnaire that assesses patient-reported problems, six symptom burden indices, and one global quality of life index. The system automatically scores the PCM and generates a written report. The objective of this study was to assess the manner in which clinicians use this system and identify the benefits and challenges that oncology clinics may face when adopting this system. The study was part of a larger evaluation of the system that included standardized surveys and chart review. Sixteen providers (physicians, nurses, and physician assistants) at 13 community oncology clinics participated in a 30-minute interview. Responses were coded according to common phrases or concepts. Clinicians indicated that they use the system mainly for symptom assessment or review of systems. The most common benefits identified included the improved ability to identify under-reported symptoms, enhanced communication with patients; increased efficiency; and its ability to highlight patients' most bothersome symptoms. Challenges included patient burden from the frequent need to answer the questionnaires, issues with the wording and formatting of the screening questionnaire, and technical difficulties. In sum, these interviews suggest that electronic symptom assessments offer potential advantages in terms improving the integration of routine assessment of patients' symptoms and health-related quality of life into the daily flow of an oncology clinic. The approach should receive additional research and development attention.