Patients with cancer experience many complex issues throughout the trajectory of the disease. These range from the physical consequences of cancer and treatment to the psychological, social, and spiritual issues associated with living with the disease. An individualized, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary approach is needed to reduce patient suffering and ensure appropriate symptom management and support from the time of first diagnosis to end of life. Data from randomized clinical trials prove that patients provided with early palliative care can experience relief of symptoms and improvements in quality of life, mood, satisfaction, resource use, and advanced care planning. Professional organizations such as ASCO have begun to develop recommendations that integrate palliative care into standard oncologic care from the time a person is diagnosed with metastatic or advanced cancer. NCCN has a palliative care guideline that recommends early and ongoing assessment of palliative care needs and referral to specialist palliative care services in more complex cases. In turn, oncologists need to consider how best to screen patients and integrate early palliative care with routine oncologic care, within the context of their busy clinics, to ensure that patients, families, and caregivers receive timely support.
Paul Glare, Kathy Plakovic, Anna Schloms, Barbara Egan, Andrew S. Epstein, David Kelsen, and Leonard Saltz
The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines) for Palliative Care recommend screening all patients for palliative care (PC) needs and to call a PC consult when referral criteria are met. The goal of this pilot project was to evaluate the feasibility of implementing the screening and referral components of the NCCN Guidelines for Palliative Care in patients admitted to the Gastrointestinal Oncology Service (GIOS) at a comprehensive cancer center (CCC). Floor nurses performed the initial screening of all patients admitted to the 2 teams—Team A and Team B—of the GIOS on one floor of Memorial Hospital for 3 months. In addition, only the patients admitted to Team A were evaluated according to the referral criteria, triggering a PC consult if results were positive. Nurses were surveyed regarding satisfaction with and the acceptability of screening. During the study period, 229 (90%) total admissions were screened, with 169 (73%) having positive results. Of the Team A admissions, 72 (64%) met the referral criteria. More consults occurred for patients in Team A (47 vs 15; P=.001). In 30% of the referral criteria-triggered consults, the PC needs were manageable by the primary team. Nurses reported screening to be easy and quick (<5 minutes per patient) but only somewhat helpful. Being unfamiliar with many patients and families, floor nurses often felt unable to screen them accurately for some issues. In conclusion, screening was feasible, increasing access to PC, but accuracy and usefulness are concerns. With a consult indicated in 64% patients, yet with 30% being manageable by the primary team, the current criteria may be too sensitive for the inpatient environment of a CCC. More evaluation is needed before widespread implementation can be recommended.