From the Journals

Psychological screening integration improves quality of care for children with abdominal pain



Researchers are using a screening tool to identify and treat pain, disability, and anxiety symptoms in children with functional abdominal pain disorders (FAPD), which they say can help children “at the greatest risk for adverse outcomes,” according to results from a recent report published in Pediatrics.

Natoshia R. Cunningham, PhD, from the divisions of behavioral medicine and clinical psychology and the department of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati and her colleagues tested their screening process with a pilot study in a single clinic between August 2015 and October 2016. Researchers assessed patients with FAPD using the Screen for Child Anxiety Related Disorders (SCARED)–Child Report and Functional Disability Inventory (FDI)–Child Version. Clinically significant anxiety was defined as a score of at least 25 (range, 0-82) for the SCARED; clinical cutoffs for minimal, moderate, and severe disability in the child version of the FDI were defined as scores of 0-12, 13-29, and greater than 30, respectively. After fine-tuning the screening process in the pilot, the researchers scaled the effort to six different clinics within a large gastroenterology division at a Midwest urban medical center.

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“Children with FAPD who are at the greatest risk for persistent functional disability (i.e., those with clinical elevations in all three risk areas) are now being immediately identified and managed as part of routine care,” Dr. Cunningham and colleagues wrote in their study.

Of 6,744 eligible children (mean age, 13.34 years; 58% female; 87.6% non-Hispanic white), 5,221 children completed the screening, with 1,291 of 1,369 children completing both the screening process and reporting abdominal pain as a presenting complaint. Researchers found 43.1% of children showed clinically significant anxiety under SCARED, with a mean SCARED score of 24.3. Children had a mean FDI score of 13.7, and nearly half of the children had functional disability that was moderate (34.2%) or severe (10.8%), with 61.5% overall reporting a pain level of least 4 out of 10 during the week.

There were 21.1% of children with “clinical elevations” in pain, disability, and anxiety, with researchers noting that, compared with patients without clinical anxiety, those with anxiety had significantly higher FDI scores (mean, 16.29 vs. 11.54) and higher pain levels (mean, 4.63 vs. 3.72).

Among those referred to psychological services, the number of referrals after implementing psychological screening nearly doubled to 15.2 patients per 1,000 per month between March 2017 and September 2017, compared with baseline referrals the previous year (8.3 per 1,000, March 2016 to September 2016).

The researchers suggested future work in psychological screening for children with FAPD should consider shortening screening time by using different outcome measures to lessen the burden on clinical staff; they noted it should also consider applying psychological screening in a telehealth, primary care, or school setting to increase access to care.

“Even in patients with all three risk factors, the decision to refer to psychological providers remains an individualized process driven by clinical judgement,” Dr. Cunningham and her colleagues wrote. “Many factors, including provider practice patterns and other considerations (e.g., patient and family interest, provider availability, distance to care, and insurance coverage) guide these decisions.”

The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

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