Is implementing screening for distress an efficient means to recruit patients to a psychological intervention trial?
Psychological interventions show greater efficacy when evaluated with distressed patients. We report on the feasibility of implementing screening for recruiting distressed cancer patients to a randomized controlled trial of problem-solving therapy (PST), characteristics associated with enrolment, and time investment and challenges of implementing screening.
Three medical settings implemented screening of patients, directly after cancer treatment (T1) and 2 months later (T2), using Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25 and one question about need for services. Distressed patients indicating need for services were interviewed. Eligible patients were offered the possibility to participate in the trial. Consenting patients were randomized to PST or waitlist.
At T1, 366 of 970 screened patients (37%) scored above the cutoff and at T2, 208 of 689 screened patients (30%). At either or both T1 and T2, 423 patients reported distress, of whom 215 indicated need for services. Only 36 (4% of 970) patients consented to trial participation. Twenty-seven patients needed to be screened to recruit a single patient, with 17 h required for each patient recruited. Barriers to screening were time constraints and negative attitudes of oncology staff towards screening.
Implementing screening proved inefficient for recruiting distressed cancer patients post-treatment to a randomized controlled trial on PST, with need for services being much less than anticipated. Consecutively screening patients did not result in a sample representative of the larger pool of distressed patients, which may lower generalizability. An adequately powered intervention trial using screening requires a feasibility study establishing recruitment rates and dedicated, funded staff assistance. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.