They also discuss proper use of the drugs. For instance, Patel notes one patient who misunderstood her instructions and was taking one pill needed for her treatment five times a day instead of taking all five pills at once. Misuse or improper use of the medications may result in their compounds not working as they should as part of the cancer treatment.
Cost issues can be discussed as well, since many anti-cancer drugs are expensive. Patel and Hopkins underscore the importance of taking the drugs at their prescribed intervals even if the prescriptions are expensive and may not be covered by insurance: Skipping anti-cancer medication could be very problematic in effectively fighting the disease.
At the cancer center, those patients considered to be at highest risk for errors include those who are taking more than five medications at the same time, those with multiple co morbid conditions, those taking oral chemotherapeutics, and those taking long term (five years) hormonal therapy.
To assist the patient, the clinical team creates a "medication action plan" that clearly identifies any important symptoms the patient should look out for—some of which should provoke emergency care. The patient can take this action plan home, share it with his or her family, and show it to other specialty healthcare providers including their pharmacist.
The team sees this service as a way to increase patient satisfaction as well, Patel says. Many seemed pleased because no one before had taken the "time to sit with you and talk about your medications and what happens when you take it," Patel says.