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The Oncology Pharmacist's Role in Patient-Centered Care

By Annie Lambert, PharmD

October 14, 2016

I knew I wanted to be a pharmacist after I completed a job shadow at our local hospital when I was a junior in high school.  I was fascinated by the role pharmacists played on the healthcare team, joining providers on rounds and troubleshooting issues related to medications and infusion pumps.  It was clear to me early on that it takes a whole team to achieve the best outcome for the patient.  My path led me to oncology pharmacy, where my passion for patient care was fed and my mind was challenged daily. I was able to engage with patients and the healthcare team on another level.  It was a pleasure to see my patients each week, giving them relief of their side effects when I could, and developing relationships over the course of their treatment.  Over the years, our cancer program grew to include more team members.  What a privilege to collaborate with my multidisciplinary colleagues–social workers, dietitians, nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners, and so many others on our care team.

As we all know, it takes a special type of person to work with cancer patients.   I am fortunate to work with an exceptionally dedicated and compassionate team of oncology pharmacists and technicians.  Many of them have a personal connection to cancer, while others enjoy the challenge of keeping up with new drugs and treatments.  But all of them say their favorite part of their job is talking with our patients.  Another testament that patients are at the heart of what we do!

 The Oncology Pharmacist’s Unique Role

Not all patients can say they have a personal relationship with their pharmacist.  Many patients come to us thinking about their pharmacy team at their local drug store, but oncology pharmacists do so much more!  At MultiCare Regional Cancer Center, each new patient meets with a pharmacist to review their treatment, side effects, and symptom management strategies.  If an oral chemotherapy is prescribed, our pharmacist helps connect them to the right specialty pharmacy or supports the prior authorization team to ensure the patient gets their treatment started.  During their treatment, a pharmacist will check in with them to help manage their nausea, bowels, or electrolytes. This is the care model that intrigued me as a high school student and still demonstrates value today.

New Technologies and Challenges

Over the years, new technologies have entered into our cancer program, changing the way my team interacts with patients—among these are advances that enable an electronic health record (EHR), computerized provider order entry (CPOE), smart infusion pumps, barcode scanning . . . I could go on! But it’s important to recognize that these high-tech tools do not replace the personal, high-touch work that we do; instead, they enhance our work, making the care we provide safer and more efficient. And at times, in the midst of a launch of new technology, it can be hard to keep that in mind. But the fact is, these new tools, too, are about delivering patient-centered care.

Oncology is an ever-evolving discipline.  The number of new drugs approved in the last few years is staggering!  For patients, this is an exciting time with the potential for more choices with fewer side effects. Or, for example, to know that their drug regimen is tailored to the genetic markers on their cancer.  For pharmacists and other oncology clinicians, this makes it more challenging than ever to keep up with the latest trends and treatment options. What do we need to build into our electronic medical record protocols and infusion pump libraries?  How do we learn enough about a new drug to ensure we are treating patients safely on the first dose and on the twelfth or twentieth dose?   What type of toxicity—physical or financial—should we be prepared for? How much does this cost our organization and our patients?

We have come so far yet we still have so much to learn!   We strive to improve our processes and quality to better serve our patients.  With each new drug, initiative, or technology upgrade, let us remember to keep our focus.  Patients are at the heart of the team.

National Pharmacy Week is coming up October 16-22.  Take a few moments to thank a pharmacist or technician you know, whether directly part of your cancer program or the team that indirectly supports your patients. 

On October 19,  ACCC is presenting the Oncology Pharmacy Education Network (OPEN) Pre-Conference in conjunction with the ACCC 33rd National Oncology Conference (October 19-21) in St. Louis, MO. 

Annie Lambert, PharmD, is Oncology Pharmacy Manager at ACCC member program MultiCare Regional Cancer Center in Tacoma, WA.