How Oncologists can Provide Vital Patient Care & Navigate around Challenges
Physicians strive to provide excellent patient care, address patient needs, and treat patients to the best of their abilities. For oncologists, conditions are more time-sensitive and come with a sense of urgency like no other medical field. Swift action is almost always required.
If you’re an oncology nurse or a physician working the oncology floor, there’s no doubt that you stay busy. From seeing patients and investigating the nuances of each patient’s cancer, to deciding on the best clinical steps moving forward, your schedule is packed full.
In light of rising cancer rates and the complexities of each type of cancer, providing the best possible treatment for each patient is a top priority for oncologists — but quality care does not come without challenges.
Treating cancer is difficult and requires a team of medical professionals. Patients, by necessity, receive care from various facilities, specialties and subspecialties. This makes it extremely difficult to have each patient’s complete and timely medical history — and can mean oncologists and staff are making decisions with missing clinical information.
But in a specialty where every bit of information is vital, the lack of adequate and complete patient information can have potentially severe consequences. Missing clinical data can affect the quality of patient care and delay timely decisions that can be life-saving.
It’s therefore imperative that oncologists are given the tools they need to provide the patient care individuals need to survive.
Patient Care: Where the Disconnect Starts
Oncology is a deeply intertwined medical specialty that relies on clinical information from various disciplines to provide quality patient care. An oncology nurse reaches out to anyone from the patient’s primary care provider to specialty doctors they see, such as their endocrinologist, rheumatologist, and OBGYN.
This means trying to know and locate all of the places where a patient has received treatment and then trying to call, fax, or electronically receive the clinical information that the provider has related to the patient — so that the oncologist will hopefully have a comprehensive medical history to use as a foundation for any medical decisions he or she makes for treatment.
Unfortunately, this is a long and tedious process. Collecting data from countless sources can lead to some information being missing entirely because of not being aware it even exists and other times providers receive information that is incomplete or buried in pages and pages of records that are mostly unrelated.
This adds a profound amount of work for the physician and the oncology nurses to build an accurate patient chart and sort through outside medical records.
Treating cancer requires seamless communication and exchange of clinical data among all those assisting in the treatment of patients — regardless of where or who provided treatment.
Between medical oncology, the umbrella term for many different types of therapy that can help contain a patient’s cancer (e.g. chemotherapy, biological therapy, immunotherapy, stem cell transplants, and hormonal therapy) to surgical oncology and radiation — the internal and external exchange of data is critical for optimal treatment.
Along with clinical information, data, and narrative, surgical oncologists and radiation therapists, among others, additionally rely heavily on imagery such as MRIs, CT Scans, and Rays, as well as lab tests, such as bloodwork, organ function, and tumor markers. Images and laboratory information help guide providers in targeting cancer cells directly to provide the best possible treatment.
Patients fighting such a serious and life-threatening illness want to know their oncologist and support staff put together a treatment and care plan that is based on all possible information about them and their disease.
Challenges Oncologists Face Caring for Patients with Cancer
For a patient to receive optimal care, specialties need to work together and relay vital clinical data to the cancer center so that the patient can be treated for his or her condition in a timely fashion. Besides supporting the patient care experience, timely treatment and swift action can relieve many emotional stressors that plague cancer patients.
In light of the complexity most cancer diagnoses bring with them, internal medical data and outside medical records are crucial in the decision-making process and the identification of the best possible treatment options.
Here are some of the most prominent hurdles oncologists face during the patient’s treatment journey:
(1) The Long List of Patient Referrals & Outside Providers
Oncology nurses and clinicians alike, know the dilemma of having to piece together clinical data for their patients. In order to provide great patient care, it’s necessary for the doctor to have all the information he or she needs prior to deciding on a course of treatment.
Coming from a PCP, an oncologist will need to obtain the patient’s extensive medical history to obtain a holistic picture of the patient’s health. But it doesn’t stop with the PCP.
Is the patient diabetic? Then the oncology nurse will complete other medical records release forms and ask to obtain records from the patient’s endocrinologist.
Does the patient have a history of gallstones? In this case, the nurse will complete yet another medical records release form and send it over to the patient’s GI specialist.
This required outreach is necessary for each different specialty care the patient has received. However, this assumes all current and past treating providers are known — ones who are unknown become a gap in understanding.
Clinical notes and data play, of course, a big part in understanding the patient’s condition, however, oncologists likewise nearly always want to have images and labs. Unless the patient has had exactly the bloodwork, images, or biopsies done in a suitable timeframe, the oncologist will order one or all of these prior to deciding on the best course of treatment.
Cancer is a difficult, complex, and frightening disease for patients. Oncologists must therefore, be prepared to coordinate their data, findings, and suggested treatment plan with other oncologists when the patient wants a second opinion.
Finding, obtaining, and working with clinical information and images coming from and going to past and current providers in different places, formats, and styles requires a significant amount of work and energy by the healthcare staff.
(2) Incomplete Clinical Data
While obtaining clinical information from all known providers who have or may be currently providing treatment is a challenging process, when a prior or current provider the patient may have received or is receiving treatment from is unknown, this leads to a potentially dangerous situation where the provider is making clinical decisions with gaps in understanding of the patient’s health condition.
Gaps in understanding can lead to duplicative tests which are often difficult to do, expensive, and can delay treatment, to misdiagnoses or less than optimal clinical decisions, and sometimes are discovered “at the last minute,” requiring staff to stop everything and try to obtain the missing information.
All of this puts a significant strain on oncology nurses and diverts their attention from important patient care tasks — leaving fewer nurses to work the floor and magnifying the burden of staffing shortages.
(3) Clinical Trial Recruitment Obstacles
In a specialty that so heavily relies on further scientific research, like testing new medical devices, drugs, and new procedures, any obstacles that present themselves will significantly slow down progress and limit opportunities to advance science and provide quality patient care.
Given the severity and stage of a patient’s cancer, current FDA-approved drugs may not work for marginal groups or rare types of cancer. Clinical trials offer alternatives to patients that would otherwise not benefit from traditional treatment options.
To verify that a patient will or will not qualify for a clinical trial, it’s imperative that the site and study coordinator have enough clinical data to cross-check the applicable inclusion and exclusion criteria set forth in the study protocol.
Unfortunately, the lack of a relevant medical history can lead to the patient not qualifying for the trial despite promising treatment options for his particular condition.
At the same time, this also encompasses a financial loss for the clinic as both patient screenings, as well as additional study visits, are generously reimbursed by sponsors.
With Rising Cancer Rates, the Time to Act is Now
Unfortunately, cancer rates are not expected to decrease but rather increase. Cancer is expected to increase in prevalence and yield 26 million cancer survivors in the US population by 2040.¹ However, because of dedicated researchers and care providers, the number of cancer and cancer survivors is expected to increase, marking a 24% increase for survivors by 2032.¹
Cancer requires a team where knowledge, facts, images, and assessments are freely communicated and made available to everyone on the patient’s care team — this is not a one-time and done type of thing but needs to be addressed on a continual basis while the patient is treated and monitored.
Here’s a Tool that Helps Oncologists Provide Top-Notch Patient Care
In a medical specialty where time can potentially make a difference between life and death, oncology nurses and specialty clinicians are working hard to provide exceptional patient care. But with the stakes so high, clinical staff are in dire need of tools that support workflow efficiency, save time, help with personnel shortages, and provide the care patients are looking for.
One of these tools is our cloud-based solution that’ll help you locate, access, and extract the medical records you need for your patient.
In a world where patient care is extremely time-sensitive, wouldn’t it be nice to have all the clinical data readily available to you, so you can start the patient’s treatment as soon as possible?
Let’s not forget the emotional burden and challenges cancer patients face — commonly plagued by stress and anxiety, you can show the patient that they are, in fact, in good hands.
Statistics and Graphs | Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS). Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), 17 November 2022, https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/ocs/statistics#statistics-footnote1. Accessed 13 March 2023.