Patients with cancer who speak to an oncology nurse prior to their first appointment are significantly more likely to be retained for their treatment, according to a study presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Quality Care Symposium.1

To remove barriers to access and begin caring for patients before their first appointment, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, developed an initiative that involved each patient receiving a telephone call from an oncology nurse shortly after speaking with a new patient coordinator to schedule their first appointment.

As part of the initiative, more than 40 full-time and part-time oncology nurses devote a portion of their time each day to calling new patients prior to their first visit. During each call, the nurse would answer any questions the patient may have, describe the care they would receive, and begin evaluating patients’ individual needs. In total, nurses made more than 10,000 telephone calls during the 1-year period of the initiative.

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Investigators analyzed data from 1200 patients who reported their experience of the call with the registered nurse and assessed the impact of the intervention on the likelihood of retaining the patient for treatment.

Results showed that patients who spoke to a nurse prior to their first appointment were 24% more likely to be retained than those who did not speak to a nurse (odds ratio, 1.24; 95% CI, 1.10-1.39; P <.0005). The retention rates of patients who spoke to a nurse and those who did not were 42.9% and 37.8%, respectively.

After adjusting for multiple variables, including time to first appointment and age, investigators found that receiving a call from a nurse was predictive of patient retention. The study also demonstrated overwhelming positive feedback to receiving a telephone call from a nurse.

Given these positive findings, the researchers continue to build the program so that all patients receive a telephone call from a nurse specializing in their cancer type prior to their first appointment.


1. Gross A, Leib R, Hilton N, et al. Impact of a nurse-calling program on retaining patients with a new diagnosis of cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2017;35(suppl 8S):Abstract 69.