And the Survey Says….

Posted on: June 13th, 2014 by

I’m supposed to see my oncologist this summer. I pick up my phone. I hesitate. I tell myself I’m just not up to it and I’ll call another day. And I put down the phone.

This has happened now every day for awhile. I know that I will make that appointment.

But today is not the day.

I have to gather the strength and courage it takes to make an appointment for a followup visit.

Many emotions overtake me when I go to the oncologist, including high anxiety.


At my last appointment with my oncologist, he was kind as usual. So why the hesitancy to make the appointment and go? The answer lies in a survey.

Like so many hospitals, my hospital has a Center for Advanced Care, which is trying to be a kinder, gentler place and take stock of the whole patient. The staff wants to make sure that they are meeting the psychological needs, as well as the physical wellness, of the patient.

I think this is a great approach — to an extent.

My last appointment was a bit jarring for me, though, all because of a survey that patients are now told to take before seeing their oncologists. The survey asks you to rate your feelings on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest level.

The minute I saw the questions, I totally got it. The staff wants to make sure I’m psychologically in a good place. To me, this is an oxymoron, as an oncology office isn’t exactly where you’ll find me in the best mental state. In fact, I’m usually in high-panic mode there. And I’ll bet that, for the majority of people, an oncology department isn’t the bastion of sound psychological wellness.

As I was filling out the never-ending survey, answering questions about my crying habits, depression, and so on, my heart started racing and I was feeling out of sorts: should I be feeling all the things the survey asked? I continued stressing. Then the next question asked me to rank my anxiety level on the aforementioned scale.

Being honest, I chose 9 out of 10.

Had I answered the survey at home, it would’ve been much lower, as I am not typically heightened emotionally. My nerves are in control in my native habit, but not so much in the sterility of an oncologist’s office.

After the survey incident and now really upset, I was ushered into the examination room. There I was sitting on the examination table, ready for the exam, when I heard that familiar knock on the door, followed by an unfamiliar smiling face. She introduced herself as a social worker and said it’s policy for her and other social workers to check with anyone who answered that anxiety-level question with a 3 or higher.

Of course, now my anxiety level felt like a 10.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” she asked.
“Huh?” I barely gasped.
“Why is your anxiety level so high?” she asked.
“Because I’m here,” I said.

And, with that, she quickly excused herself and left. And so did some of my anxiety. By the time my doctor entered the room, I was spent.

Don’t get me wrong: I like the idea of a survey and keeping a handle on how patients are doing, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually. These social workers are so necessary. However, perhaps mailing the survey would have been a better idea — after all, I am less anxious on my own turf.

I think from now on I will try to be less stressed. And I will rank all my answers as a 1.


Do you typically complete surveys regarding mental state at doctor’s offices?

If so, do you find these surveys helpful?

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6 Responses to And the Survey Says….

  1. karen sutherland had this to say about that:

    dear Beth,

    I have never done a survey like the one your described – in the oncologists’ waiting area.
    e-gads, I don’t know what they were thinking and can so understand the rating you gave to anxiety! however, I do think that every worker of an onc’s staff should be aware that anxiety and other types of emotional pain are prevalent with cancer patients and their loved ones when they are on their premises; and they should all respond appropriately to let us know they understand how we feel and do what’s needed to alleviate that stress. but you are right – better they should mail the survey and have the rating question separately addressing office visit anxiety. so sorry for all you had to go through, feeling that oh, so awful pit in one’s stomach.

    much love,

    Karen xoxo

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      You make excellent points about oncology staff being aware about anxiety and anguish being a part of a cancer patient’s visit. I’m still waiting for the day that I’m not anxious at the oncologist’s office, but I think that day won’t come. I must accept the anxiety and do my best to manage it.

      Thank you for your comments on my posts. I really appreciate them!

  2. Nancy's Point had this to say about that:

    Hi Beth,
    I’m sorry that filling out the survey caused you so much anxiety. And yes, who doesn’t feel anxious when sitting in an oncology department as a patient? I commend them for having such a survey. No one has ever really addressed my emotional well-being at appointments. Maybe it would have been better to mail it to you. Then again, my hospital mailed me some surveys following my surgeries and I never got around to completing them. So I understand how they want to get as many surveys filled out on the spot as possible. Anything about cancer is potentially awkward. Good for you for filling it out! And maybe the fact that you put down a 9 will get someone thinking about things a bit more. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Beth.

    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Yes, I wonder if many people rank their anxiety level as very high in an oncologist’s office. I would venture to say yes. And you are right about those mailed surveys; I often forget to complete them and send them in, so perhaps getting the survey before seeing the doctor is better.

      Thank you, as always, for your insights and for always “getting it.”

  3. Kathi had this to say about that:

    Talk about getting it wrong from the get-go. This is so not how you address or acknowledge patient anxiety. It would be like giving such a survey to the patients in the waiting room of a psychiatry or counseling practice. Duh. Anxiety in such a context is self-evident. Big fail.

    I had an experience at the other end of the spectrum recently. The cancer treatment center where I got radiation & saw my med onc actually sent me a brief survey a few months ago, asking about my treatment experience, when I hadn’t been there for an appointment in 4-1/2 years!! I wrote, “It’s a little late to be asking me, don’t you think?” and mailed it back. Lawdy.


    • Beth L. Gainer had this to say about that:


      Big fail is exactly right. It was a ridiculous move by the administration of my hospital. In fact, my onc didn’t even look at it. He knows it’s mere fodder.

      I think your response to the much-delayed survey was wonderful!! I have always admired your snark. Good for you!

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