Health Team

Health consultations by phone 'a lot more comfortable'

Posted July 14, 2010 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2010 6:32 p.m. EDT

Pain and depression are two of the most common problems for cancer patients. They're treatable but frequently go undetected and undertreated. Now, a different way of delivering care may help those patients.

Mel Anderson doesn't have to go to his oncologist about pain issues. He can speak to a nurse on the phone.

“By doing it over the telephone, it made me feel a lot more comfortable,” he said.

Researchers studied cancer patients from across Indiana who had pain, depression or both for one year. Half received usual care with an oncologist while half answered automated questions about their symptoms by phone or Internet and received a monthly follow up call from a nurse, who was part of a nurse-physician specialist team.

“Patients in the telecare management group were 50 percent more likely to experience a significant improvement in their pain, and patients with depression there was a 40 percent reduction in the number who had major depression at the end of the year,” said Dr. Kurt Kroenke.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This is a way of enhancing care for all patients and maybe making their visits to a doctor more selective, when it's really needed for treatment and tests,” Kroenke said.

The nurse and specialist discuss the patient's comments and recommend a plan to his oncologist.

“The phone calls helped me get answers to questions that I probably would have forgot before I got to the doctor,” Anderson said.

Although the study was limited to pain and depression in cancer patients, researchers say telecare management might help patients with heart failure, lung and neurological diseases manage symptoms as well.