Telephone follow-up for breast cancer patients

If Dr. Kinta Beaver gets her way, the method of follow-up for cancer patients will change radically. Arguing that telephone follow-up after cancer treatment is a viable alternative to hospital or doctor's visits in some cases, the British researcher told a crowd at the 16th International Conference on Cancer Nursing (ICCN) in Atlanta that her research indicates the phone may be just as effective as the clinical visit as a method of follow-up for breast cancer patients.

Sharing the results of her 2009 randomized trial, Beaver claimed that phone follow-up by an oncology nurse is a suitable option for women at low to moderate risk of recurrence, women who live far away from clinics, and women who experience mobility problems.

“Sixty-five percent of patients still had information needs 2 years after diagnosis,” Beaver observed. She hypothesized that some of these patients could be served by a specialist nurse who telephoned them at home, thus eliminating the need for unnecessary clinical examinations. A group of 374 women participated in the 2-year study, and all of them had been recently treated for breast cancer with a low to moderate risk of recurrence at outpatient clinics in two NHS hospital trusts in the northwest region of England.

Beaver acknowledged that phone follow-up can be challenging. The mean average time for a telephone consultation is about 6 minutes, which perhaps limits what can be accomplished in this time. But women participating in the phone consultations run by the study were satisfied with the care they received via telephone. They were no more anxious for not having clinic examinations and face-to-face consultations; they even reported higher levels of satisfaction than the group who did in fact receive follow-ups in a hospital clinic. The phone group did not receive any more clinical investigations than the clinic group.

According to Beaver, this research could result in significant savings for health care systems without compromising patient care. “Evidence is not enough to change practice,” Beaver acknowledged, but the evidence in this case points to the telephone as a cost-saving alternative to face-to-face follow-up consultations.

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