Hospitals step up assessment, treatment of patients' emotional needs

Seriously ill patients--and their families--must face not only the physical challenges of treating their disease, but complex emotional hurdles as well. Therefore, more and more hospitals now address emotional distress in patients and family members that could interfere with their treatment and overall well-being, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The idea has especially taken hold at pediatric cancer centers, as a growing number use the Psychological Assessment Tool (PAT) to identify patients and their loved ones who struggle and organize them into three levels of risk. About 15 percent of those assessed fall into the highest-risk category and thus require immediate intervention, WSJ reports.

One such provider is the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, which uses PAT to "quickly get a snapshot of what is going on with a family" while the patient is undergoing treatment as well as after treatment has ended, a hospital administrator told WSJ. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and Children's of Alabama hospital in Birmingham also use PAT to identify patients and family members who need psychological or behavioral support.

But St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, screens families for emotional issues without use of PAT, which Sean Phipps, chairman of the facilities' department of psychology, told WSJ may lead providers to over-diagnose emotional issues and hamper families' normal coping processes. Phipps is also the co-author of a recent study that challenges previous research about the prevalence of post-traumatic stress in youth cancer patients.

"We don't want to start with the presumption they have been traumatized and jump in to fix what's not broken," he told the newspaper.

Compassionate care, or "recognizing the concerns, distress and suffering of patients and their families and taking action to relieve them," can also greatly benefit hospitals themselves by boosting staff and patient satisfaction, FierceHealthcare previously reported. And medical schools have begun to take notice, too, as 2015 will be the first year that the Medical College Admission Test will include questions related to psychology and behavioral science, according to FiercePracticeManagement.

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