Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oncology Patients in the Emergency Department

Dusting off the Blogger account and checking in......

JCO published a population-based snapshot that looks at the characteristics of patients with cancer who visited emergency departments in North Carolina during 2008. Lung cancer was the most common cancer identified in visits by a significant margin while breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer were each identifed in a smaller number of visits. Patients with lung cancer were more likely to be admitted to the hospital with a total of 63% of all ED visits for patients with cancer resulting in an admission. The top three complaints included pain, dyspnea, and gastrointestinal complaints. More ED visits occurred during night and weekend hours than regular office hours.

Few brief thoughts/questions to ponder:
  • What percentage of the ED visits were preventable? What systems could be introduced to prevent the visits? (Urgent clinic availability, telemedicine, enhanced home health, etc)
  • Would these system changes result in a more timely manner and would that result in reduced need for hospital admissions?
  • As a palliative care clinician, it's not a surprise to see lung cancer disproportionately represented. One of the results of the Temel et al study regarding palliative care involvement from the time of metastatic NSCLC diagnosis was reduced hospital admissions/ED visits. It's not clear what the "mechanism of action" is, but improved access to a team that can help with the top symptoms certainly is one plausible hypothesis.
  • What is the "right number" of appropriate ED visits/hospital admissions? Hard to say, but palliative care as a field should actively work to help our oncology colleagues to push the numbers as low as possible. As much as I like my ED colleagues, the ED is not a fun place to be.

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