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A Culture of Compassion

Volunteer Voice - Winter 2010


When a patient comes to MD Anderson, they are met with respect, compassion and hope. It’s the culture MD Anderson employees embrace as they provide physical care and emotional comfort to patients and their families. But as most of us spend many hours of our lives here, sometimes we forget that our caring attitudes don’t always extend beyond our walls. As one MD Anderson patient said, “I feel comfortable at MD Anderson because people here make the abnormal seem normal.”

While we can’t be everything to everyone, it’s important to “step back,” assess and improve the psychosocial care that we give our patients. Psychosocial care is the social, psychological, emotional, spiritual, quality of life and functional aspects of a person’s life. The institution has set goals towards improving this type of care:

  • Increase patients’ awareness about the many resources available at MD Anderson
  • Provide timely referrals to psychosocial professionals

Patients at increased risk are those with:

  • Communication barriers
  • Social problems
  • Family/caregiver conflicts
  • Young or dependent children
  • Inadequate social support and/or who live alone
  • Financial problems
  • Limited access to medical care
  • Spiritual/religious concerns
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Severe comorbid illnesses
  • History of depression/suicide
  • History of psychiatric disorder/substance abuse

Distressed? We’re here to help

A team developed the Patient Needs Assessment emotional distress scale to help clinical staff evaluate what causes each patient the highest amount of distress. The Patient Needs Assessment focuses on four categories of concern: practical, family, emotional and physical. Staff can then refer patients to the appropriate support service.

“The use of a scale to measure distress is much like the pain scale. It helps staff to gauge the source, the intensity and duration of a patient’s emotional discomfort or emotional pain,” said Lakshmi Naik, assistant director, social work. “With the scale, staff can proactively identify and address distress in patients by directing them to the appropriate experts that can enhance patient coping. This reduces the frequency of crisis interventions, alleviates the need for the medical staff to ‘become the expert’ with every type of distress, and it improves quality of life for patients as well as caregivers and staff.”

Most patient exam rooms display a resource poster that promotes psychosocial resources, and patients can take a flyer home. This tool is a visual cue for the clinical staff to start a conversation with the patient about possible concerns. It also reminds the patients that they should feel comfortable asking about non-physical problems.

“The flyer is like one-stop shopping for all our resources,” says Julie Bradford, communications manager in the Patient Education Office. “It also gives patients all the phone numbers at one glance so they know who to contact for however they are feeling or whatever is a concern to them.”

Volunteers are trained to share the psychosocial flyer with patients and caregivers.

If you would like more information about the Psychosocial Council Initiative or the distress thermometers and posters, please call Louise Villejo, executive director of the Patient Education Office, at 713-792-7128.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center