Quality of telephone nursing services for adults with cancer and related non-emergent visits to the emergency department

Dawn Stacey, Lynne Jolicoeur, Katelyn Balchin, Kate Duke, Claire Ludwig, Meg Carley, Lindsay Jibb, Craig Kuziemsky, Suzanne Madore, Lisa Rambout, Jackie Romanick, Michael M. Vickers, Lorraine Martelli


A quality improvement project was conducted to determine the quality of telephone nursing for patients with cancer symptoms. Eligible patients were ones who telephoned the nurse about cancer symptom(s) within four weeks prior to an emergency department (ED) visit not requiring hospital admission. Experienced oncology nurses extracting data indicated appropriateness of ED visits and opportunities for improvement. The Symptom Management Analysis Tool was used to analyze nurse documentation. For 77 patients, 87% ED visits occurred within four days of calls about symptoms (e.g., pain, breathlessness, constipation, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting) and 91% could have been managed by more complete telephone assessment and/or an urgent clinic visit. Quality of nurse documentation revealed few patients were assessed adequately (38%), received any symptom-specific medication review (49%), or were guided in self-care strategies (17%). There was low-quality telephone symptom management by nurses and a need for alternative options for patients requiring urgent face-to-face assessments. Our findings highlight a gap in use of guidelines for informing telephone symptom management.

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