An observational study published in the January issue of the Journal of Supportive Oncology shows that most discussions between cancer patients and community-based oncologists lack the specificity necessary to create a clear understanding of how anemia and related fatigue affects patients' daily lives. The study found this to be the case even though 52% of office-visit time with oncologists is spent discussing chemotherapy-related symptoms and side effects of treatments.The study, supported by Ortho Biotech, was aimed at capturing naturally occurring conversations between clinicians and patients undergoing chemotherapy. The study observed 15 oncologists, 12 allied health professionals ranging from medical assistants to oncology-certified nurses, and 36 cancer patients interacting during regularly scheduled office visits in five different states.
Findings and Recommendations
The findings showed that discussions of anemia and related fatigue are routine but minimal; that vocabulary describing side effects is imprecise, resulting in dialogues that do not reflect the patient experience; and that fatigue instruments such as Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Anemia (FACT-Anemia) or other clinician question guides are not used in conversations. The study also revealed that allied health professionals frequently had longer and more engaged conversations about side effects with patients than the oncologists.
As a result of these findings, the study's authors encourage oncologists to:
• Modify their vocabulary and consider incorporating a validated fatigue instrument, either within or prior to the patient consultation;
• Improve the quality of communication and enhance best practices; and
• Systematize the role of allied health professionals in tracking and treating the impact of anemia and related fatigue on patients' lives to further clinicians' understanding of the true nature of the patient's condition.