Things you need to know
An occasional series providing specialty-specific advice for hospitalists from experts in the field.
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Cancer patients can be some of the most complicated and high-stakes patients who come into a hospitalist’s care.
The issues faced by such patients are three-pronged: Besides the effects of the cancer itself, these often elderly patients also grapple with the side effects of treatment and other medical issues.
The Hospitalist sought tips for caring for hospitalized cancer patients from a half-dozen experts in hematology and oncology. Here are the 10 most common pieces of advice they had for hospitalists caring for cancer patients.
1 Know the History
This includes the subtleties of the patient history, which can be quite involved, says Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, FACP, deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University and chair of hematology and medical oncology at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
“Part of that history may be obtained from the patient and the patient’s family, but if the treatment has been evolving over time, you need to get in touch with the treating physician or at least have access to the records of the patient’s treatment,” he says. “The arsenal of drugs that we use against cancer has expanded dramatically and in different directions. Now we have tremendous technological innovations with very focused radiation or very refined surgery, and not just novel chemotherapy but also targeted therapies that can target a specific Achilles heel of cancer.”
Basically, it is important for hospitalists to know exactly “what you are dealing with.”
“That’s a lot of information that the hospitalist needs to know. Whom do I contact? Whom do I need to access, not just on the web, but in person, to understand what this patient is going through?” he adds.
With many patients, time is of the essence. This is part of the reason why it’s so important to get a complete history and full picture of a patient’s treatment right away, Dr. Khuri says.
“The patient with cancer often presents in worse shape than patients with other diseases,” he says. “Therefore, with patients with cancer or patients with other really life-threatening illness, you generally have less time to figure out what is going on.”
2 Communication Is Paramount
“The reason that communication is important is to convey the right message to the patient,” says Suresh Ramalingam, MD, professor and director of medical oncology and the lung cancer program at the Emory School of Medicine. “An oncologist who’s been following a patient for a year and a half…I would think has some insight that he or she can provide the hospitalist to manage the acute illness that the patient is admitted with.
“The other thing is many times a patient comes in the hospital and the first question they have is, ‘Does this mean my cancer is getting worse? What is the next option for me? And am I going to die right away?’ And they’re going to ask this question of whomever they see first. Having the oncologist’s thoughts on the patient’s overall status of cancer is important to address such issues.”
Dr. Ramalingam says that a situation that used to occur, but is now less frequent, is frantic calls from a patient in a hospital bed saying, “The hospitalist just walked in, and he said I’m going to die in three weeks. You never told me about that.”