Promoting Research Literacy for Improved Patient Outcomes

Determining best methods to screen for religious/spiritual distress

Determining best methods to screen for religious/spiritual distress

Purpose: This study sought to validate for the first time a brief screening measure for religious/spiritual (R/S) distress given the Commission on Cancer’s mandated screening for psycho-social distress including spiritual distress. Methods Data were collected in conjunction with an annual survey of adult hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) survivors. Six R/S distress screeners were compared to the Brief RCOPE, Negative Religious Coping subscale as the reference standard. We pre-specified validity as a sensitivity score of at least 85 %. As no individual measure attained this, two post hoc analyses were conducted: analysis of participants within 2 years of transplantation and of a simultaneous pairing of items. Data were analyzed from 1449 respondents whose time since HCT was 6 months to 40 years. Results For the various single-item screening protocols, sensitivity ranged from 27 (spiritual/religious concerns) to 60 %(meaning/joy) in the full sample and 25 (spiritual/religious concerns) to 65 % (meaning/joy) in a subsample of those within 2 years of HCT. The paired items of low meaning/joy and self-described R/S struggle attained a net sensitivity of 82 % in the full sample and of 87 % in those within 2 years of HCT but with low net specificities. Conclusions While no single-item screener was acceptable using our pre-specified sensitivity value of 85 %, the simultaneous use of meaning/joy and self-described struggle items among cancer survivors is currently the best choice to briefly screen for R/S distress. Future research should validate this and other approaches in active treatment cancer patients and survivors and determine the best times to screen.

Note: this article was featured in the November 2016 Article of the Month from the ACPE Research Network.

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