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Oncol Nurs Forum. 2004 Sep 17;31(5):E75-83. Print 2004 Sep.

Computerized symptom and quality-of-life assessment for patients with cancer part I: development and pilot testing.

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  • 1Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.



To develop and test an innovative computerized symptom and quality-of-life (QOL) assessment for patients with cancer who are evaluated for and treated with radiation therapy.


Descriptive, longitudinal prototype development and cross-sectional clinical data.


Department of radiation oncology in an urban, academic medical center.


101 outpatients who were evaluated for radiation therapy, able to communicate in English (or through one of many interpreters available at the University of Washington), and competent to understand the study information and give informed consent. Six clinicians caring for the patients in the sample were enrolled.


Iterative prototype development was conducted using a standing focus group of clinicians. The software was developed based on survey markup language and implemented in a wireless, Web-based format. Patient participants completed the computerized assessment prior to consultation with the radiation physician. Graphical output pages with flagged areas of symptom distress or troublesome QOL issues were made available to consulting physicians and nurses.


Pain intensity, symptoms, QOL, and demographics.


Computerized versions of a 0 to 10 Pain Intensity Numerical Scale (PINS), Symptom Distress Scale, and Short Form-8.


Focus group recommendations included clinician priorities of brevity, flexibility, and simplicity for both input interface and output and that the assessment output contain color graphic display. Patient participants included 45 women and 56 men with a mean age of 52.7 years (SD = 13.8). Fewer than half of the participants (40%) reported using a computer on a regular basis (weekly or daily). Completion time averaged 7.8 minutes (SD = 3.7). Moderate to high levels of distress were reported more often for fatigue, pain, and emotional issues than for other symptoms or concerns.


Computerized assessment of cancer symptoms and QOL is technically possible and feasible in an ambulatory cancer clinic. A wireless, Web-based system facilitates access to results and data entry and retrieval. The symptom and QOL profiles of these patients new to radiation therapy were comparable to other samples of outpatients with cancer.


The ability to capture an easily interpreted illustration of a patients symptom and QOL experience in less than 10 minutes is a potentially useful adjunct to traditional face-to-face interviewing. Ultimately, electronic patient-generated data could produce automated red flags directed to the most appropriate clinicians (e.g., nurse, pain specialist, social worker, nutritionist) for further evaluation. Such system enhancement could greatly facilitate oncology nurses coordination role in caring for complex patients with cancer.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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