Keeping Pace With Oral Chemotherapy
+ Author Affiliations
- Corresponding author: Jeanette Barefoot, RN, MSSL, OCN, Trinitas Comprehensive Cancer Center, 225 Williamson St, Elizabeth, NJ 07207; e-mail: email@example.com.
Purpose: Although the rising number of oral chemotherapy agents offers many patients with cancer a more convenient and less invasive treatment option compared with infusion therapy, multiple risks and challenges have been identified with the oral regimen, including dosing errors, drug interactions, and nonadherence or overadherence. Until recently, cancer care providers had maintained a considerable amount of control, including the certainty that the right drug was being administered in the right dose, via the right route, at the right time, and to the right patient—all of which were meticulously documented in patient records. In contrast, oral chemotherapy takes much of the control out of the clinician's hands and places tremendous responsibility on the patient, raising a number of adherence and control issues. Studies regarding oral hormonal therapy for breast cancer have described adherence rates ramping down from 83% to 77% within the first 2 years of therapy. These figures continue to decrease over time to a range of 50% to 64% within 4 to 5 years. On the basis of these data and a literature review, we developed a program to promote adherence to oral anticancer protocols.
Methods: Our team took a proactive, team-focused approach and established protocols at a time when oral chemotherapies were still at a low volume. In addition to infrastructures, policies, and procedures promoting collaborative communications among physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, we developed an in-depth educational component that provides the linchpin for ensuring an effective oral chemotherapy program. Our program focuses on three key pillars: education, communication, and follow-up. Our project team first conducted an inclusive review of available literature, with the objective of designing processes that would help our program directly address existing risks and challenges. Then we introduced concepts for the formalized program to our cancer center physicians, whose support was paramount to successful implementation. The next step was to start the program with a mandatory in-service for all clinical staff, which included a presentation of the research evidence that prompted the creation of this model for oral chemotherapy. To enhance patient understanding, our team provides printed materials, individualized calendars, and in some cases preloaded pillboxes to assist patients. Concurrently, our nurses provide weekly telephone intervention for the second and third months and monthly phone interventions thereafter. Communication is key to the success of the program. This includes the use of a translation service to ensure effective communication with all non–English-speaking patients. We intervene early for those patients with financial barriers and offer a variety of referrals and resources for emotional, nutritional, and patient support services, including transportation issues.
Results: Since the inception of the program, the in-service has been incorporated into our new employee orientation. At the same time, a growing number of cancer center physicians are embracing the program. The program has received the attention of the Oncology Roundtable, which developed a Webinar around the topic, and been described in a feature article in an oncology journal. Finally, our team has been tapped to educate other pharmacists regarding oral agents, toxicity profiles, and safe handling.
Conclusion: By combining safeguards, patient education strategies, intensive follow-up, and a system of effective checks and balances, our center is taking significant steps to maximize patient safety and oral chemotherapy treatment effectiveness, while keeping pace with the rapidly occurring changes in oncology practice.