Goal of work: This descriptive, retrospective study sought to identify the nature and magnitude of chemotherapy outpatients' unplanned presentations and admissions to the emergency department and/or cancer centre at a large metropolitan tertiary hospital, and to explore the antecedents to those presentations.
Patients and methods: Retrospective data were collected for outpatients who made an unplanned presentation to a large metropolitan hospital in Sydney, Australia between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007. Detailed information was collected for those who had received cytotoxic chemotherapy at the hospital's cancer centre within the 6 months prior to the unplanned presentation to hospital. Demographic and explanatory variables were identified, including: reasons for presentation, cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy regimens, and position in the chemotherapy trajectory.
Main results: The Cancer Institute NSW figures indicate that each year approximately 518 outpatients are treated with chemotherapy at the participating cancer centre. During the study period, 316 cancer outpatients made 469 unplanned presentations to either the Cancer Centre or the hospital emergency department. Of those outpatients presented, 233 (73.7%) had received chemotherapy in the previous 6 months and made a total of 363 presentations. Of these 363 presentations, 253 (69.7%) occurred within 4 weeks of receiving chemotherapy. The majority of presentations by those who had received chemotherapy in the previous 6 months resulted in hospital admission (87.6%) for a median length of stay of 5 days. The most frequent presentation symptoms were nausea and/or vomiting (45.2%), pain (27%), fever and/or febrile neutropenia (23.4%), shortness of breath (19.3%), dehydration (12.1%), anaemia (8.8%), fatigue (8.8%), diarrhoea (8.8%), and anxiety and/or depression (5.5%).
Conclusions: Chemotherapy outpatients have significant unmet needs following treatment, indicating an urgent need for improved continuity of care and better integration of primary and tertiary health care services.