Intended Purpose, Target Population, Setting, and Appropriateness
In terms of their purpose, the selected SCN tools aimed to provide information on specific symptoms or problems, addressing needs for care and support, and assessing areas of distress and concerns related to the illness (Table 5). All tools were intended to aid routine clinical assessments, and the majority of them were developed for research as well (NA-ACP, NA-ALCP, POS, SCNS-LF59, SCNS-SF31, SPARC). Yet, only 3 instruments were specifically developed for screening patients for further referral and/or intervention. These tools focused on identifying cancer-related symptoms, concerns and needs for use on an outpatient basis (PSL), or patient needs to guide referral of patients and families to palliative care (SPARC, CC-LC).
Most instruments were originally developed with mixed samples of patients with cancer; therefore, their intended focus was the needs of a general population of people with cancer rather than those of people diagnosed with lung cancer. Only 1 SCN tool was specifically developed (NA-ALCP), whereas 2 tools (PSL, CC-LC) were modified versions for use in the context of lung cancer care. What is more, 2 tools added lung cancer–specific items for study purposes (POS30,31 and the SCNS-LF5932,33) (Table 5).
In terms of disease stage, 4 tools were specifically developed to address the needs of patients with advanced cancer and/or the need for palliative care (NA-ACP, NA-ALCP, POS, SPARC). In addition, all tools in our sample were developed for use predominantly in the ambulatory outpatient setting; however, the POS has been effectively used in a variety of other settings (inpatient, community),44 whereas the SPARC can also be used in the primary care setting.48
Content, Length, and Comprehensiveness/Representativeness
Content of most of the generic SCN tools was drawn from several sources and refined through a process that involved health professional and patient feedback, pilot work, and statistical analyses. Three SCN tools (CC-LC, NA-ALCP, PSL) were adapted versions for use with patients with lung cancer, developed after revision and/or reduction of the contents of the original instruments. Yet, details regarding content validity were absent for all of the SCN tools reviewed except for the NA-ALCP; thus, no consensus with regard to this property can be made. In addition, the contents of the SCN tools were compared with the domains of needs identified in a recent systematic review of the literature specific to patients with lung cancer (Table 2). All tools included items that addressed healthcare needs in the majority of the domains (Table 2). The NA-ACP and the SCNS-SF59 were the most comprehensive tools, followed by the NA-ALCP, the PSL, and the SPARC, which covered the majority of needs domains. Even so, the distribution of the number of items over the domains varied significantly between and within the tools. This suggests that some tools assessed specific domains more thoroughly (more items) than others (less items) (eg, NA-ACP, NA-ALCP, SPARC).
The length of tools in both groups ranged widely from 10 to 132 items, even though tools with less than 50 items would be regarded more appropriate to reduce patient burden of completion and clinician burden of administration. However, coverage of needs domains was not influenced by length, given that brief tools such as the NA-ALCP, the PSL, and the SPARC included items across almost all domains.
Item and Scoring Format and Recall Time Frame
As shown in Table 5, different question formats have been adopted by the instruments to elicit information on the degree to which a need is experienced or how distressful or important a problem is considered to be. The majority of SCN tools used a Likert-type scale format to address the extent to which needs, concerns, or problems exist or cause distress. The PSL utilizes a clinician-friendly checklist format with dichotomous items (yes/no) to assess distress related to different problems, whereas the SPARC uses a combination of the aforementioned formats to introduce different types of questions. Importantly, desire for help with identified needs is assessed in 2 tools only (PSL and CC-LC) using a binary data collection format. Given also that the majority of the SCN tools were developed to be administered in a multiprofessional healthcare setting, the question format recognizes the contribution of all members of the healthcare team. However, the NA-ACP and the NA-ALCP include medically oriented items that other professional groups may find difficult to identify with.
Most tools adopt a scoring system for both individual items and domains of needs (NA-ACP, NA-ALCP, SCNS-LF59, SCNS-SF31), and aggregate scores can be yielded for individual domains. However, in 2 tools (CC-LC and POS), a global score is also provided. Moreover, the developers of the SPARC favored an approach where each item is scored and considered on its own merit, rather contributing to produce an overall domain score.48 The previous month was selected as an appropriate recall time frame for the majority of the SCN tools in our sample. Yet, the CC-LC and the PSL use a narrower 1-week time frame, whereas the POS assesses palliative care needs in the previous 3 days.
Supportive care need tools’ empirical validation was examined and demonstrated in various ways. As already stated, content validity of most of the generic SCN tools predominantly relied on existing literature and interviews with health professionals and patients, as well as preliminary pilot work. Examples of tools for which extensive development procedures were followed include the SCNS-LF59, the SCNS-SF31, the NA-ACP, and the POS (Table 6). However rigorous this process may have been, content validity in the context of lung cancer is compromised, given that even in the case of tools specifically developed for use in this patient population, patients’ perspectives of needs and clinicians’ experiences in the care of those people were seldom taken into account.
Construct validity was established for 6 of the SCN tools reviewed. However, the NA-ALCP was the only tool identified where convergent validity and divergent validity were examined among people with lung cancer, even though its factor structure is yet to be confirmed. For the remaining tools, evidence from the original validation studies has confirmed construct validity of the POS and the SPARC through comparisons with similar or dissimilar constructs (POS, SPARC) and the NA-ACP, the SCNS-LF59, and the SCNS-SF31 via factor analytic procedures. In addition, construct validation techniques for the CC-LC and the PSL have not been made explicit as yet.
Similarly, internal consistency reliability of our tool sample was underreported in the lung cancer patient population and was evaluated only for the NA-ALCP and the SCNS-SF31 through calculations of the Cronbach α coefficient. With a recommended reliability standard of α > .80,29 these tools demonstrated good overall internal consistency, although reliability for some of the subscales was low (Table 6). Data regarding the tools’ stability over time were nevertheless scarce and demonstrated only in the original validation studies of the NA-ACP and the POS, in which cases mixed results emerged.
Responsiveness to change, a tool’s ability to capture meaningful changes over time, has never been examined in the context of lung cancer. In the present sample, the only tool in which this property was evaluated was the POS, and this was reported only in the original validation study that was conducted in a mixed sample of patients with advanced cancer.44 At 3 time points after initial referral to a palliative care service, the POS demonstrated good ability to detect clinically, but not statistically, significant change in patient needs; improvements in scores were reported as time from referral lengthened.44
Feasibility and Respondent Acceptability
Despite the importance of the practical considerations in the application of SCN tools in the clinical setting,26 data on tool feasibility were generally scant. Reading level of the NA-ACP, NA-ALCP, SCNS-LF59, and SCNS-SF31 was specifically examined and found appropriate for patients with different educational backgrounds. Where reported, time to complete the tool ranged widely from 7 minutes (POS) to 76 minutes (NA-ACP) (Table 6), but this refers to general samples of patients with cancer rather than to people with lung cancer. It is assumed that a completion time of less than 30 minutes (POS, SCNS-LF-59, SCNS-SF31) would be regarded more appropriate for the population of patients with lung cancer and professionals involved in their care, especially if discussion also is prompted. Whereas electronic versions may require less time for completion,26 only in the case of the CC-LC, a method of administration other than paper-and-pencil was used for people with lung cancer (Table 6).
The CC-LC, the NA-ALCP, and the SPARC were the only tools for which respondent acceptability (ie, ease of use, need for assistance in completing, or clarity of questions asked) was evaluated with people with lung cancer. The SPARC was considered as appropriate by 83% of the patient sample, who perceived the questions posed as being appropriate and understandable. Approximately 30% of the patients required assistance with completing the tool.39 Similarly, a computerized version of the CC-LC was well received by the patients, although participants in the study by Hill et al9 required assistance in interpreting or completing the majority of the items, which may reflect deficits in the tool’s development. Although only minimal missing data were reported for NA-ALCP, no further details on the tool’s acceptability were reported.36 In all cases, no translated versions of the tools were identified, thus rendering their suitability for patients with lung cancer of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds widely unknown.
Most people with lung cancer experience a rapid and fatal course of illness because of the poor prognosis.33 Thus, the provision of patient-centered care is of utmost importance in an effort to address people’s subjective needs for supportive care interventions.50 Addressing such needs can prevent patient distress, poor quality of life, and dissatisfaction with care,35 as well as subsequent increases in healthcare resource utilization and costs.51 However, to adequately address these needs effectively, identification is required. This can only happen through a rigorous, systematic, and ongoing process of assessment26 that spans over key or significant transitional time points: diagnosis, completion of primary treatment, follow-up care, palliative care, and terminal care.39,52 Assessment offers a direct measure of patients’ support preference, identifying areas of unmet needs, and service gaps.53
In the present review, 8 SCN tools used with patients with lung cancer were identified. Yet, only 1 instrument (NA-ALCP) was a lung cancer–specific tool; 2 (CC-LC, PSL) were adapted versions of existing generic SCN tools, whereas the remainder were tools for general use with people with cancer. This fact may well explain the overall poor content validity of this tool sample in the context of lung cancer care. Whereas development of the majority of the generic tools reviewed was supported, it is unclear whether these are really appropriate for use with a specific population of patients. Equally, it is questionable whether existing tools can adequately identify healthcare needs that people with lung cancer consider most important. There is evidence suggesting that the use of PROMs can be effective only if patient’s preferences are taken into consideration, as this ensures that priorities for care are consistent with that of the patients.54–56
In terms of their intended purpose of use, wide variability was noted among the tools; also, half of them were specifically designed to address needs of patients with advanced disease, whereas 3 tools can be considered for screening assessments. Only a few tools were able to provide a comprehensive assessment by covering the full range of domains of needs identified for patients with lung cancer (R. Maguire, et al. “A Systematic Review of Supportive Care Needs of People Living With Lung Cancer,” article submitted for publication, 2012). Similarly, discrimination between assessment of concerns/problems and actual desire to receive care was scarce among the tools reviewed. Often, people with lung cancer may feel that help is not necessary even when they admit the presence of a need.6 Tools that purposefully ask patients to indicate their priorities and desire for care can direct clinicians to areas where intervention might be required the most.
In terms of their psychometric properties, construct validity and internal consistency had been evaluated in varying degrees, however, more often in the original development studies rather than in the 12 studies identified in this review. A considerable number of developers had performed factorial analyses to establish construct validity, but few had assessed stability through a test-retest procedure. Of greater significance, only 1 tool had been tested in a longitudinal study for its ability to capture overtime change. This limitation can inhibit our understanding of how needs of patients with lung cancer may change and fluctuate at different time points, or through transitional stages. As cancer progresses, patients’ preferences for involvement may also change; therefore, monitoring of changing needs with valid measures as the disease status alters becomes paramount.9 Of note, the tools implemented different scoring methods, although Likert-type scales were widely applied. If tools are to be used to capture magnitude of change, important potential “floor” and “ceiling effects” need to be controlled, as well as effect sizes to be reported.28
Importantly, information on tools’ reading level, rates of missing values, time needed to complete, or availability of translated versions or electronic formats was only partially provided in the relevant studies. Such parameters can be seen as critical factors to integration of a tool in the daily practice and need to be more thoroughly examined in future studies with people with lung cancer. For instance, SCN tools in this review were very differently organized possibly in an effort to promote a patient-friendly format and avoid burdening respondents. Yet, only in 4 studies involving the use of the CC-LC, the NA-ALCP, and the SPARC patients with lung cancer were actually asked to comment on the instrument’s clarity and appropriateness.9,36,38,39 A needs assessment tool should be “one that opens the communication channel” between patients and professionals28 and in that sense should be easy to use and easy to interpret and complete, as well as easy for clinicians to extract useful information in a non–time-consuming manner.26
Implications for Research and Practice
Overall, findings of the present review render apparent the fact that development and use of SCN tools in the context of lung cancer are far less than optimal. Currently, only the NA-ALCP and the SPARC can be considered as appropriate for use in clinical practice, whereas the NA-ALCP is the only SCN tool with reasonable psychometric properties that can be used for research purposes in studies of people with lung cancer. Even so, future research is certainly warranted. Taking into consideration the limitations in current SCN tools for use in people with lung cancer, it is imperative that a fit-for-purpose, psychometrically robust, context-specific, and acceptable tool is developed specifically for this patient group, which can be implemented in everyday practice to allow for a meaningful communication and management of unmet needs. Importantly, this process will have to begin with purposefully considering and incorporating perspectives and opinions of patients with lung cancer and views and expectations of health professionals involved in their care, possibly through utilization of focus group interviews to gather meaningfully rich data. Enhancement of the tools’ content validity can lead to refinement of comprehensiveness to enhance patient-professional communication and enable professional understanding of specific patient needs so that tailored care can be provided.
Of relevance, a number of feasibility and acceptability parameters will need to be explored for their potential to influence actual implementation of these tools in busy clinical environments. Obstacles sourcing from the organization of the provision of care within the healthcare service can avert the use of SCN tools; therefore, external/organizational factors need always to be considered. Availability of different administration formats (paper-and-pencil or computerized assessment solutions), assessment methods (self-reported or interview style), and validated translated versions will need to be examined under different circumstances.26 With computerized needs assessments being increasingly seen as widely acceptable methods by both patients and clinicians in cancer care,26,28 investigation of the feasibility of a computer-assisted assessment is highly recommended. What is more, wording and reading level of SCN tools for people with lung cancer will need to be thoroughly examined in future studies, as it can profoundly affect the feasibility of a tool in practice.26 Inappropriate wording may not be acceptable to patients and/or clinicians, whereas inappropriate reading levels may be frustrating for patients or time consuming for health professionals who may be asked to provide clarification.
Importantly, all psychometric qualities of these tools will need to be (re)confirmed. Whereas validity and reliability in the lung cancer patient population will need to be established through consecutive studies conducted among patients at different disease or treatment stages, it is confirmation of the tools’ ability to record clinically meaningful changes that will greatly affect future needs assessment and management at both research and clinical level. Confirming the ability of these tools to capture change over time not only will allow for the longitudinal effects of interventions on patient needs to be documented, but also it will provide health professionals with valuable insight on exacerbations in healthcare needs as patients with lung cancer navigate the healthcare system. Comprehensive and succinct SCN tools can be seen as practically useful for meaningful assessments, which in combination with subsequent care planning can lead to improvement of measurable outcomes of care such as decrease in levels of unmet need or enhancement of communication.26 The role that SCN tools can fulfill in the identification of healthcare needs in this population can be crucial: their routine use in clinical practice not only can dramatically increase the standards of care provided, but also it will allow for patients to voice their preferences and determine for themselves the focus of interventions.
Meanwhile, clinicians are encouraged to incorporate SCN tools in their everyday practice to identify and meet the needs of people with lung cancer. As already stated, 2 instruments (NA-ALCP and SPARC) identified in this review seem to be the most appropriate for use in this patient population. However, a number of additional tools exist that could be usefully adapted to this end (Table 7). Also, health professionals must bear in mind that no perfect tool exists. This automatically implies that clinical use of any of the measures identified here should be primarily informed by clinicians’ own experiences in providing support to patients with lung cancer within their own practices, in an attempt to align their care efforts with patients’ expressed priorities. Therefore, clinicians are invited to consider all relevant parameters that can promote actual use of SCN tools in routine practice. The only safe way is to purposefully explore how the use of an SCN tool is perceived by their patients and colleagues and what the impact of this practice is on the patients’ well-being and the health professionals’ ability to provide meaningful, patient-oriented care. Engaging in an SCN tool-guided dialogue with patients about any unmet healthcare needs may considerably improve satisfaction with the care provided and received.35
The goal of this review was to draw the attention of clinicians to the use of PROMs to provide supportive care to people with lung cancer, at the same time underlying the need for further systematic research in this context. Our search strategy aimed at including all relevant literature; however, it was not exhaustive but limited to the most common databases, to articles published in the English language, and to self-report instruments only. In addition, although research in this area has only recently begun to emerge, it is acknowledged that relevant studies conducted prior to the last decade might have implemented additional tools that potentially have been omitted from this review. However, clinicians and researchers are encouraged to consider the results of the present review regarding implementation of the most appropriate PROMs to enhance communication of healthcare with people with lung cancer.
The challenge of providing supportive care in a disease such as lung cancer, which in many cases has a poor prognosis, is to identify individual needs early to enable appropriate interventions and support services to be offered.81 Paramount in this attempt is the use of SCN tools, which, apart from having established psychometric properties, also are brief, comprehensive, easily comprehensible, and acceptable to patients and clinicians. Despite recent advances in this area, development of specific SCN tools for use with patients with lung cancer is still in its infancy. Collaborative work among patients with lung cancer, health professionals, and researchers is required to ensure that an SCN tool not only is content-specific but also takes into consideration the reality of the contemporary lung cancer care.26
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Keywords:© 2013 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins
Healthcare needs; Lung cancer; Patient-reported outcome measures; Supportive care; Systematic review