If you’re being treated for cancer and experiencing symptoms, what would cause you to pick up the phone and call your cancer center? Pain emerged as the number one reason, in a study of 563 patients, who reported 2,378 symptoms during 1,229 phone calls to the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.
Marie A. Flannery, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor in the UR School of Nursing and a research assistant professor in Cancer Control, wanted to better understand the symptom priorities of patients when she launched the study, which was published in Oncology Nursing Forum.
The two most common ways to learn how patients are feeling is to wait for them to call, or ask them to report symptoms from a written checklist. Based on the checklist method, the scientific literature identifies fatigue as the single biggest complaint.
But Flannery wanted to know what caused people to spontaneously pick up the phone. Pain was reported twice as much as fatigue in her study sample. The next most frequently reported symptoms by telephone were fatigue, nausea, swelling, diarrhea, and labored breathing.
The analysis of four months of data from phone calls also revealed that patients reported up to 49 symptoms, sometimes in as many as 18 different calls. The study underlined the idea that pain is a complex subject; it’s personal and subjective, and can also be under-reported due to fear that the cancer is getting worse, Flannery said.
As a result of her findings, the Wilmot Cancer Center instituted a new protocol for nurses who triage and answer all telephone calls – including supportive, follow-up calls back to the patient’s home when a change is made in the pain management plan at a clinic appointment.