FEB 15, 2021 9:39 PM PST

Asking Patients the Right Questions About Their Symptoms

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandes

A patient is admitted to the hospital after experiencing chest pains. What are the right questions that hospital staff and healthcare providers can ask to assess the situation and report the severity of the patient’s symptoms? In such cases, standardized questionnaires can serve to monitor and adjust clinical interventions more effectively.

A team of researchers from Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Medicine has developed a solution—a tool called SymTrak-8. This short questionnaire is derived from its longer predecessor, the SymTrak-23 caregiver report form. It features questions about a patient’s symptoms, including their pain levels, fatigue, sleep quality, cognitive function, and mental health assessments. The researchers found that scores from the SymTrak-8 version were comparable to SymTrak-23 in terms of their sensitivity and reliability.

"These symptoms are commonly reported in primary care, but they can be a sign of a variety of different diseases, so tracking them is important," said Kurt Kroenke, M.D., one of the developers of SymTrak-8. 

"This shorter version of Symtrak provides the same insight as the 23-question tool, but is less burdensome to complete. It could be very useful in busy primary care settings, where time can be limited."

According to the researchers, Symtrak has the potential to significantly improve patients’ quality of life by capturing detailed information about their symptom burdens. The questionnaire can be completed either by patients themselves or their families and caregivers. 

"The Symtrak-8 and Symtrak-23 provide a more complete picture of overall wellbeing and symptom burden," said Patrick O. Monahan, another lead developer of the tool. "The sensitivity of the questionnaires can be a good barometer of the efficacy of treatments."

The researchers are optimistic that the Symtrak tools will benefit patients and their physicians. "We are excited about the scalability of these tools," said Dr. Kroenke. "They are clinically practical and clinically applicable, and the option of a shorter and longer version provides more flexibility for clinicians."
 

Sources: J Gen Intern Med, Eurekalert via Regenstrief Institute.

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