Original Article

Assessing psychosocial distress: a pain audit at IRCH-AIIMS

Sushma Bhatnagar, Dwaipayan Banerjee, Saurabh Joshi, Rahul Gupta


Aim: Recent work in palliative care has recognized that pain is a complex social, psychological, spiritual and psychological experience. In order to assess if each of these components is equally well addressed in clinical practice, we undertook a retrospective audit of psychosocial assessment procedures at the pain clinic at IRCH-AIIMS, New Delhi.

Methods: 686 pain assessment forms collected over 2011 were examined and analysed through SPPS.

Results: (I) While physical aspects of pain are recorded at almost 100% levels in the pain forms, psychosocial components of patient distress are found to be less adequately recorded; (II) The layout the assessment is slanted towards functional factors (such interference with daily activities and mobility), while non-functional symptoms are being recorded at relatively low levels (anxiety-1.2%, depression-4.4%). Prior studies in the same clinic as well as in the Indian psycho-oncology literature has shown that non-functional distress (such as anxiety and depression) are usually found at much higher rates of incidence (33-80%); (III) Analysis of the existing data revealed severe demographic vulnerabilities in our patient sample, an aspect that is recorded but not currently addressed as part of a psychosocial assessment.

Conclusions: In light of these findings we surveyed 14 existing pain assessment tools, and chose two for incorporation into our existing pain practice. These tools were the Distress Inventory for Cancer-2 and the American Pain Society Patient Outcome Questionnaire. They were chosen for their balance between functional and non-functional symptoms, sensitivity to socioeconomic distress and ease of completion in the high volume public health scenario.

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