Improving the frequency of symptom assessment in pediatric palliative care patients


Improving the frequency of symptom assessment in pediatric palliative care patients


Mark M S; McKenna L; Thienprayoon R






awareness; child; clinical evaluation; comfort; conference abstract; e-mail; electronic medical record; hospital patient; human; human cell; information technology; outpatient; Palliative therapy; quality of life; root cause analysis; stem cell; symptom assessment; total quality management


High quality symptom management for children receiving palliative care relies on accurate and timely documentation of symptoms. Our pediatric palliative and comfort care team (PACT) previously established a mechanism in to assess and document symptoms in the electronic medical record (EMR) using a symptoms assessment tool modified from the Memorial Symptom Assessment Scale (MSAS). Our specific aim was to increase the percentage of MSAS evaluations completed and properly documented at the time of consult completion and at least weekly thereafter by PACT providers from 20% to 90% over six months. This project utilized standard quality improvement methodology. We began with a process map, documented process failures using a PARETO chart, and subsequently performed root cause analysis for each failure. Multiple tests of change were run for the following interventions: an initial educational session, MSAS badge reminder cards, adding MSAS awareness to our morning patient huddle, notification of individual completion rates via email, public posting of individual completion rates, a visual reminder with a colorful stamp on daily patient list, modification to the EMR patient list view and EMR flowsheet interface where MSAS is documented. We also performed in-depth reviews of any failures that were identified. Within 4 months of implementation the aim was exceeded and a median of 100% of patients had documented MSAS evaluations. This was considered a significant improvement based on the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Scale. These results have been sustained for an additional 8 months. Factors that impacted success included active engagement of all team members in the improvement process, frequent recognition and treatment of new symptoms, and ongoing updates regarding individual completion rates. Our dependence on the EMR was a limiting factor in sustainability as not all parts of the process were able to be automated and some steps still depend on human factors. Improving existing structure of team communication became critical as we implemented tests of change. Next steps for this project include utilizing the weekly MSAS data available on all patients to study those symptoms experienced specifically by children undergoing stem cell transplant. We will continue to work with our hospital information technology staff to further develop sustainability via process changes in the EMR. In addition we will expand our symptom assessment to include all outpatient consults. Finally, as we have standardized, reliable method to measure symptoms for all inpatients, we intend to design interventions targeting improving symptom management and health-related quality of life in children receiving palliative care in our institution.


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April 2020 List



Mark M S; McKenna L; Thienprayoon R, “Improving the frequency of symptom assessment in pediatric palliative care patients,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed October 2, 2023,