Context: Changes in the healthcare system have resulted in shortened hospital stays, moving the focus of care from the hospital to the home. Patients are discharged post-operatively with ongoing needs, and whether they receive nursing care post-hospitalization can influence their recovery and survival. Little information is available about the factors that influence outcomes, including the survival of older cancer patients after cancer surgery.
Objective: To compare the length of survival of older post-surgical cancer patients who received a specialized home care intervention provided by advanced practice nurses (APNs) with that of patients who received usual follow-up care in an ambulatory setting. We also assessed potential predictors of survival in terms of depressive symptoms, symptom distress, functional status, comorbidities, length of hospital stay, age of patient, and stage of disease.
Design: A randomized controlled intervention study.
Setting: Discharged older cancer patients after surgery at a Comprehensive Cancer Center in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Patients: Three hundred seventy-five patients aged 60 to 92, newly diagnosed with solid cancers, were treated surgically between February 1993 and December 1995. One hundred ninety patients were randomized to the intervention groups and 185 to the usual care group.
Intervention: The intervention was a standardized protocol that consisted of standard assessment and management post-surgical guidelines, doses of instructional content, and schedules of contacts. The intervention lasted 4 weeks and consisted of three home visits and five telephone contacts provided by APNs. Both the patients and their family caregivers received comprehensive clinical assessments, monitoring, and teaching, including skills training.
Main outcome measure: Time from enrollment of patients into the study until death or last date known alive at the end of November 1996.
Results: During the 44-month follow-up period, 93 (24.8%) of 375 patients died. Forty-one (22%) of those who died were patients in the specialized home care intervention group, compared with 52 (28%) in the usual care group. Stage of disease at diagnosis differed between the two groups at baseline (38% late stage patients in the intervention group compared with 26% in the control group, P = .01), so stratified analysis was performed. Overall, the specialized home care intervention group was found to have increased survival (P = .002 using stratified log-rank test). Among early stage patients only, there was no difference in survival between the intervention and control groups. Among late stage patients, there was improved survival in the intervention group. For example, 2-year survival among late stage intervention group cases was 67% compared with 40% among control cases. When Cox's proportional hazard model was used to adjust for significant baseline covariates, the relative hazard of death in the usual care group was 2.04 (CI: 1.33 to 3.12; P = .001) after adjusting for stage of disease and surgical hospitalization length of stay.
Conclusions: This is the first empirical study of post-surgical cancer patients to link a specialized home care intervention by advanced practice nurses with improved survival. Additional research is needed to test home care interventions aimed at maintaining quality of life outcomes and their effects on survival of post-surgical cancer patients.