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Published on October 17, 2016

Innovative Clinic Helps Cancer Patients Manage Symptoms and Avoid Emergency Department

The symptom management clinic is an example of efforts that earned Cone Health an Innovator Award for cancer care.

It was an up and down day for Donna Sturges. Nothing she ate stayed down. When she lifted up her head, she became dizzy. Sturges was receiving chemotherapy for lung cancer, and she wasn’t sure what normal for her felt like anymore. But once she spiked a fever, Sturges knew she needed medical care. Fortunately, she remembered the symptom management clinic at Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long Hospital.

Donna Sturges (L) at Clinic

Sturges went to the symptom management clinic, and nurse practitioner Cyndee Bacon did a quick work up. Sturges was dehydrated, so Bacon ordered fluids. “They were fantastic. They were there for me, and that felt good. Everything was handled right there,” says Sturges. “Patients don’t have to wait for the next appointment to see their oncologist if they develop nausea, diarrhea, dehydration, fever or are in a lot of pain,” says Bacon. “If a patient’s primary care provider isn’t comfortable treating their cancer-related issues, patients typically have gone to the emergency department in the past.”

While emergency departments routinely care for cancer patients, it is not ideal. “Cancer care tracks very closely to the rest of medicine. About 5 percent of patients account for around half of all money spent for care,” says Cone Health radiation oncologist Matt Manning, MD. “Much of that expense pays for trips to the emergency room to treat conditions we can take care of in a clinic. It is a lot more convenient for the patient and a lot less of a kick to the pocketbook.”

For its work in coming up with better ways to treat cancer patients and lowering the cost of their care, Cone Health Cancer Center will receive a 2016 Innovator Award from the Association of Community Cancer Centers. Manning will receive the award on behalf of Cone Health at the 33rd National Oncology Conference Oct. 19-21 in St. Louis, Missouri.

The symptom management clinic treats cancer patients for the conditions most likely to send them to the emergency department:

  • Anemia
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Neutropenia (low immune system)
  • Pain
  • Pneumonia
  • Sepsis
  • Vomiting

Most cancer patients have at least one emergency department visit during their illness. The average is two visits per patient. In the year since the symptom management clinic opened, 24.5 percent fewer cancer patients have been going into Cone Health Emergency Departments. And that is with the clinic only open during regular business hours.

Sturges has made several visits to the clinic. “It is nice to have someone who understands what you are going through and can reassure you as to what is normal,” she says.

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