Nurses Develop Tool to Prompt Sexual Health Discussions With Patients

May 12, 2016
Katie Hay

The topic of sex is often difficult to discuss. Yet for many patients with cancer and survivors, sexual dysfunction is a widespread and unfortunate reality of their cancer treatment.

Janet Gordils-Perez, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP

The topic of sex is often difficult to discuss. Yet for many patients with cancer and survivors, sexual dysfunction is a widespread and unfortunate reality of their cancer treatment.

To address this problem nursing and social work teams at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey decided to look into how often oncology nurses brought sexual health up in discussions with their patients. Their assessment found 41% of nurses did not initiate discussion of sexual issues with patients and 46% did not include the topic of sexuality assessment of patients who are receiving treatment. More than 50 percent of nurses responded that they did not feel confident in knowing the sexual health resources available to them.

“Sexual dysfunction can be a distressing consequence of cancer treatment that has a negative impact on a patient’s quality of life,” said Janet Gordils-Perez, DNP, ANP-BC, AOCNP, executive director of Oncology Nursing Services at the Rutgers Cancer Institute and the study’s senior author, in a statement.

“With oncology nurses playing a unique role in teaching patients about potential or actual challenges related to their disease and treatment, it is imperative they are fully armed with the knowledge and resources they need to address such an important topic.”

The research was presented at the recent 2016 ONS Annual Congress. Following on their findings, the team created a multistep intervention plan. The first step was educating the nursing staff by having sex therapist—led sessions that included role play between healthcare professionals and patients.

Next, all of the nurses were made aware of the sexual health resources available to them, which included lectures and other educational materials, and a multidisciplinary sexual health committee was formed to help identify interventions.

With all of these steps in place, the nursing and social work teams then modified the electronic nursing documentation tool at the Rutgers Cancer Institute. Nurses are now prompted to complete an in-depth assessment, as well as provide evidence-based interventions and evaluation. A patient education tool also was developed.

While this was created for the Rutgers Cancer Institute, the team believes this is a system that can be easily implemented across the country to help oncology nurses get the education needed to ease the conversations of sexual dysfunction in patients with cancer.