BACKGROUND: The assessment of patients' needs for care is a critical step in achieving patient-centred cancer care. Tools can be used to assess needs and inform care planning. This review discusses the importance of systematic assessment of needs in routine care and the contribution tools can make to this process. METHOD: A rapid appraisal was undertaken to identify currently available tools for patient assessment in cancer care through searches conducted with Medline and CINHAL databases. It focused on tools for the systematic assessment of individual patients' needs for help, care or support, to be used for clinical purposes-not for research or other purposes. Tools that focused on a single domain of care such as psychosocial needs were excluded, as were studies of patient satisfaction. A wide list of search terms was used, with references stored and managed using bibliographic software. RESULTS: In all, 1,803 papers were identified from the initial search, with 91 papers found to be relevant; although 36 tools were identified, only 15 tools were found to fit our criteria. These were appraised for their validity, reliability, responsiveness to change and feasibility, including acceptability to patients. The process of their development and psychometric properties were reasonably well documented, but data on how feasible they were to use in practice was scarce. Each tool met some but not all the widely accepted criteria for validity, reliability, responsiveness and burden. None were found to be complete for all dimensions of needs assessment. Most have not been sufficiently well tested for use in routine care. CONCLUSION: There is a need to continue to develop and test tools that have the attributes necessary for effective practice and to research their effects on the quality of supportive cancer care.
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