Assessing Emotional Suffering in Palliative Care: Use of a Structured Note Template to Improve Documentation

Sangeeta Lamba, Ana Berlin, Rebecca Goett, Christopher B. Ponce, Bart Holland, Susanne Walther, Rebecca A. Aslakson, Katherine Ast, Ronit Elk, Kimberly K. Garner, Robert Gramling, Corita Grudzen, Arif H. Kamal, Sangeeta Lamba, Thomas W. LeBlanc, Ramona L. Rhodes, Eric Roeland, Dena Schulman-Green, Kathleen T. Unroe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context Documentation of the emotional or psychological needs of seriously ill patients receiving specialty palliative care is endorsed by the “Measuring What Matters” project as a quality performance metric and recommended for use by hospice and palliative care programs for program improvement. Objectives The aim of this study was to increase the proportion of inpatient palliative care team encounters in which emotional or psychological needs of patients and family members were documented and to qualitatively enrich the nature of this documentation. Methods This is a mixed-methods retrospective study of 200 patient charts reviewed before and after implementation of a structured note template (SmartPhrase) for palliative care encounters. Patterns of documentation of emotional needs pre- and post-implementation were assessed quantitatively and qualitatively using thematic analysis. Results A total of 158 of 200 pre-intervention charts and 185 of 200 post-intervention charts included at least one note from the palliative care team. Documentation of emotional assessment increased after SmartPhrase implementation (63.9% [101 of 158] vs. 74.6% [138 of 185]; P < 0.03). Qualitative analysis revealed a post-intervention reduction in the use of generic phrases (“emotional support provided”) and an increase in the breadth and depth of emotion-related documentation. Conclusion A structured note template with a prompt for emotional assessment increases the overall quantity and richness of documentation related to patient and family emotions. However, this documentation remains mostly descriptive. Additional prompting for documentation of recommendations to address identified emotional needs, and the use of screening tools for depression and anxiety, when appropriate, may be necessary for clinically meaningful quality improvements in patient care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • Emotional needs
  • caregiver
  • documentation
  • emotions
  • psychosocial
  • quality improvement
  • spiritual
  • support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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