Urgent Care for Cancer Patients

Four Tactics to Reduce ED Visits and Hospitalizations

Topics: Oncology, Service Lines, Emergency Department, Length of Stay, Efficiency, Performance Improvement, Patient-Focused Care, Methodologies, Patient Navigation, Outcomes, Quality, Safety

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Executive Summary

Most cancer patients will suffer severe symptoms at some point during their treatment. In many cases, they turn to the emergency department (ED) for care, either because they are unaware that their cancer care team may be available to help, they need assistance outside of regularly scheduled clinic hours, or the clinic does not have the capacity or capability to meet their needs. 

Unfortunately, the ED is not the ideal place to manage cancer patients’ symptoms. Many EDs struggle with overcrowding resulting in long waits for patients. They may be exposed to pathogens in the process, which is a particular concern for immunocompromised cancer patients. 

Few ED clinicians have oncology-specific training, which can lead to unnecessary hospitalization, inappropriate utilization of services, and lower quality care. As cancer centers become increasingly responsible for both improving the patient experience and reducing avoidable costs, providing urgent care in the most appropriate setting is becoming a top priority. 

According to our 2013 Engineering an Exceptional Patient Experience Quick Poll, most programs have either ineffective or inadequate urgent symptom management programs. Only 20% of cancer programs provide support for patients with urgent symptoms after business hours. In fact, 27% of programs say they routinely send all patients with urgent symptoms straight to the ED. 

To help our members build a strategy for urgent symptom management, we have outlined four key tactics for meeting the needs of patients with urgent symptoms. 

This publication will explore the mandate to provide timely, evidence-based symptom management as well as the various tactics cancer programs are deploying to achieve it.