Brevity of measures is an important consideration in the acceptance of programs which screen for distress. Ultrashort measures (< 5 items) have been proposed and one of these is the single-item Distress Thermometer (DT). However, the Problem List which accompanies the DT contains 35 items, which considerably lengthens its administration time. We examined the prevalence of Problem List symptoms and their relationship to distress with a view to removing items.
Data were collected as part of the QUICATOUCH screening program at an Australian regional hospital. Oncology and Haematology outpatients completed the DT and the problem list among other measures. Frequency and chi-squared analyses were used to examine prevalence and relationship with distress.
Preliminary data from 664 patients indicated that the four most commonly endorsed problems were fatigue (51%), worry (40%), sleep (35%) and pain (32%). All of these were significantly related to distress. 14 of the 35 items were not significantly related to distress. Of these, five had a prevalence of <5% (spirituality, childcare, work or school, sexual & transport problems) and a further four were endorsed by fewer than 10% of respondents (appearance, mouth sores, indigestion, dry nose).
In clinical settings which require an emphasis on brief screening, the removal of low prevalence problems which are not related to distress could be considered.