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Cancer Nurs. 2003 Apr;26(2):113-8.

Hospice patient and caregiver congruence in reporting patients' symptom intensity.

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College of Nursing, University of South Florida, Tampa, 33612, USA.


As healthcare increasingly moves out of hospitals, the care of patients with cancer is provided in the community with the help of family caregivers. In many cases, nurses depend on family caregivers to provide assessment data about patients. This makes the accuracy and dependability of the data given by caregivers particularly important. However, it is not clear whether caregivers can accurately and dependably report such subjective data as symptom intensity. The purpose of this project was to evaluate the ability of the primary caregiver to report the symptom intensity of hospice patients with cancer. The sample consisted of 264 newly admitted adult patients with advanced cancer in hospice home care and their primary caregivers. These subjects were part of a large National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded randomized clinical trial focused on symptom management and quality of life. The patients were alert and oriented. Among the questionnaires completed by both patients and caregivers on admission were numeric rating scales for pain and dyspnea and the Constipation Assessment Scale. All of these scales were designed to describe the patient's symptom intensity. The patient sample was predominantly white (83%) and male (57%), with a mean age of 71.6 years. The caregiver sample was predominantly white (85%) and female (78%), with a mean age of 62 years. The results indicated that caregivers significantly overestimated symptom intensity for all three symptoms (P =.000). Furthermore, the limited variance accounted for by the two sets of scores for each of the symptoms (R2 =.16-.26) indicated much more error in the scores than agreement between patient and caregiver. It appears that family caregivers cannot reliably report patient symptom intensity. Healthcare providers need to train family caregivers in conducting systematic assessments instead of assuming that they understand patient symptoms.

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