53% of cancer patients' ER visits can be avoided

Better management of symptoms and access to outpatient care can reduce unnecessary emergency room visits for cancer patients, according to a study conducted by Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers.

The study included 5,853 adult patients' data. The patients had been diagnosed with a solid tumor and treated with chemotherapy, radiation or both. Of the 5,853 patients, 27 percent visited the ER 2,400 times without being admitted, within one year of starting treatment. The researchers used federal health authority-identified symptoms as well as patient-reported outcome tools to determine preventable visits.

They found that 53 percent of ER visits by cancer patients were related to symptoms that could be managed in an outpatient setting. The most common reason a cancer patient came to the ER was a pain issue, counting for 27 percent of total ER visits. Other common reasons for ER visits included fever and breathing difficulty.

Additionally, the study shows that the median cost per visit for cancer patients was higher than the cost of ER visits for other chronic health conditions — $1,047 compared to $335.

Currently, the study does not include data from Medicare beneficiaries. The research team plans on incorporating this data in the near future.

The researchers will present their findings at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago on June 5.

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