The Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) has released a joint position statement on key issues surrounding the implementation of screening programs for psychosocial distress in cancer centers. The American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer will require that cancer centers establish such screening programs by 2015 as a new criterion for accreditation.

The statement, Implementing Screening for Distress, available at positions/Distress, was cowritten with the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) and the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW). The three groups summarized their collective position on eight components related to distress screening they consider critical to quality patient care.

To begin, the ONS and collaborators expressed their agreement with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network definition of distress as an unpleasant emotional experience of a psychological (cognitive, behavioral, emotional), social, and/or spiritual nature that may interfere with the ability to cope effectively with cancer, its physical symptoms, and its treatment. Given that distress has multiple dimensions, ONS, APOS, and AOSW contend that instruments should screen broadly and not focus on one particular symptom.

Among other points made in the position statement, the organizations affirmed their belief that a patient should be screened more than once, as distress can occur at multiple time points from diagnosis onward. The screening instrument can be administered by a medical assistant, but the results must be interpreted by clinicians trained in distress screening. Processes need to be established so that once screening has occurred, the results are communicated to and reviewed by the patient’s treatment team in a timely manner.