February 2018News

New hotline helps patients manage chemo symptoms

A new rapid-response hotline is in place for JGH cancer patients who are concerned about nausea, bleeding, fatigue, fever or other symptoms that may be related to their current IV therapy (chemotherapy).

Launched on February 12, the Symptom Management Hotline is staffed by nurses who quickly give patients information about the best way to deal with their symptoms. Although some callers may be advised to seek treatment in the Emergency Department, the objective of the service is to stop patients from making the trip if emergency care is not called for.

Erin Cook, Head Nurse in Oncology at the Segal Cancer Centre, says that patients whose needs are not urgent “will be instructed to perform self-care at home, or to call back in 24 hours to see if their condition stabilizes, or to come to the Oncology clinic at the JGH.”

Ms. Cook explains that the advice that nurses dispense is based on their professional experience and is supported by evidence-based guidelines that are in use across Canada.  This is done in collaboration with JGH oncologists.

In developing the Hotline, members of hospital staff examined phone-in services in other healthcare facilities. According to Ms. Cook, the most successful “are the ones that encourage patients to call as soon as they experience any symptoms.

“If they have any doubts about how they’re feeling or if they have questions, it’s best to call, and not to wait. Those who wait may end up being too sick for us to manage at home, and that’s when they go to Emergency.”

A help line did exist previously in Oncology, she says, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been, since patients often had to wait too long to be called back. As a result, many patients turned to the Emergency Department for assistance.

The new system is also of help to nurses, Ms. Cook adds, since the former paper documentation has been replaced by an electronic record.

When and how to use the Symptom Management Hotline

The Symptom Management Hotline can be reached at 514-340-8222, extension 25529, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

On evenings and weekends, patients should call 514-340-8232 and ask to speak with the hematologist-oncologist on call.

The Hotline is open to any JGH cancer patient who is undergoing IV therapy (chemotherapy), has been treated within the previous 30 days, and is experiencing symptoms such as—but not limited to—fever, nausea, fatigue, bleeding, constipation, diarrhea or difficulty in sleeping.

“If a patient calls today and speaks with one nurse, and then calls tomorrow and speaks with another nurse, the second nurse can refer to information about the earlier conversation by referring to a well structured, digital system that’s more easily accessible to all healthcare providers.”

The Hotline is a pilot project whose performance will be evaluated after one year. It’s the first JGH element in a broader endeavour to launch an Oncology Evaluation and Treatment Centre, that has received support in funding and coordination from the Rossy Cancer Network.

The service of the Oncology Evaluation and Treatment Centre will allow cancer patients to receive urgent care in an oncology setting that is specialized to meet their needs, all while avoiding the Emergency Department. Joining the JGH in developing the Centre are the MUHC and St. Mary’s Hospital.

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