• ESAS;
  • cancer symptoms;
  • distress screening;
  • oncology;
  • quality;
  • improvment


Objective: In late 2006, Cancer Care Ontario launched a quality improvement initiative to implement routine screening with the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) for cancer patients seen in fourteen Regional Cancer Centres throughout the province.

Methods: A central team: created a provincial project plan and management and evaluation framework; developed common tools and provided expert coaching and guidance, provincial data analysis, progress reporting and program evaluation. Regional Steering Committees and Improvement teams were accountable for planning and coordination within each region and supported by a funded Regional Improvement Coordinator. A hybrid model for quality improvement facilitated process improvements and uptake of screening.

Results: Challenges to implementation included: lack of consensus on the chosen screening tool, lack of guidance for assessment or management of high scores, concern of inadequate time or resources to address issues identified by the screening, data entry was labour intensive, resistance to change and challenges to the traditional care model. Essential components for success were: centralized project management, a person dedicated to implementation of the project locally, clinical champions, clearly identified aims, monthly regional data reporting and implementation of quality improvement methodologies with expectations for performance. To achieve screening aims many centres engaged all members of the team, examined the roles of the different members and reorganized workflow and responsibilities and changed booking times. In March 2010, approximately 25,000 ESAS's were completed in the regional cancer centres across Ontario, with 60% of lung cancer patients and almost 40% of all other cancer patients who visited the Regional Cancer Centres screened.

Conclusion: Routine physical and psychological distress screening is possible within regional cancer centres. Although considerable effort and investment is required, it is worthwhile as it helps create a culture that is more patient-centered. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.