Screening for psychological distress in patients with lung cancer: results of a clinical audit evaluating the use of the patient Distress Thermometer

Johanna Lynch*, Frances Goodhart, Yolande Saunders, Stephen J. O'Connor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Patients with lung cancer frequently suffer psychological distress and guidelines in the United Kingdom recommend screening of all cancer patients for this problem. The audit investigated use of the Distress Thermometer in terms of staff adherence to locally developed guidelines, patient willingness to use the tool, its impact on referral rates to clinical psychology services and concordance between the tool and the clinical assessment. Use of the Distress Thermometer was audited over a 3-month period in one lung cancer outpatient clinic. Referrals to clinical psychology services in response to clearly delineated referral indicators were assessed. Patient-reported outcomes were compared with practitioner assessment of need during clinical consultations to see whether the tool was measuring distress effectively. Thirty three of 34 patients used the Distress Thermometer during the audit period. Ten reported distress levels above 4 in the emotional or family problems domains. On ten occasions, the clinical interview identified problems not elicited by the Distress Thermometer. Guidelines were adhered to by staff, and patients were offered information about local support services and referral to clinical psychology services where indicated. Whilst all patients were happy to receive written information about further sources of support, none wanted to be referred to psychological services at that time. The Distress Thermometer is acceptable to patients with lung cancer in outpatient settings but it did not increase referrals for psychological support. Staff found it to be a useful tool in opening up communication about patient issues although it should not replace a comprehensive clinical interview.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-202
JournalSupportive Care in Cancer
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • Lung cancer
  • Psychological screening
  • Distress Thermometer
  • Clinical audit

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