The sixth vital sign: Patient distress

Detecting distress is the first step to helping patients recover.distress June15

When going to see a health care provider for an office visit, we expect to be asked about our physical health and have a physical exam that measures our vital signs. Emotional health, sometimes called the sixth vital sign, is harder to figure out. In fact, emotional or psychosocial problems can persist for years without a provider being aware that their patient is in distress.

This has changed for cancer patients, many of whom do experience high levels of distress. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network describes distress as “an unpleasant emotional experience of a psychosocial, social, and/or spiritual nature that may interfere with the ability to cope effectively with cancer, its physical symptoms, and its treatment.” So what is being done to address this? Continue reading