I’m here because I was told to come: a study of cancer patients’ reasons for attending the emergency department
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OBJECTIVES: Patients with cancer are seen frequently in emergency departments (EDs). It has been proposed that many of these visits are preventable, but the patient perspective has not been well-studied. METHODS: We conducted structured interviews with a convenience sample of patients who presented to a single ED with a cancer-related complaint. We asked standardized questions regarding patient predisposing characteristics, enabling factors (e.g., access to support), and perceived need for care. We compared the reported perceived need with the evaluated need by ED healthcare providers. Themes were identified using descriptive content analysis. RESULTS: Forty-five patients completed interviews, of whom 30 (67%) were admitted to hospital. The most frequent reasons for seeking ED care were pain (includes abdominal) (33%), fever (11%), and weakness (11%). The majority (77%) did not make the decision to go to the ED alone: healthcare providers (40%, most commonly oncologists) and caregivers (36%) were the reported decision-makers in these cases. The majority (73%) felt their ED visit was not preventable. Themes of an alternative oncological setting for tests, improved community services, and both earlier medication management and referral to specialist care were identified from patients who reported their visit was avoidable. Congruence between (patient) perceived need and evaluated need was high (96%). CONCLUSIONS: The minority of patients made the decision to seek ED care by themselves. While the majority did not believe emergency care was avoidable, those who did had cogent suggestions to that end. Patient's assessments of their own need had high agreement with ED providers' evaluations.
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