The following is a lightly edited transcript of a teleconference recorded in July 2018. The teleconference brought together health care providers from the Greater Los Angeles VA Health Care System (GLAVAHCS) to discuss the real-world processes for managing the treatment of patients with prostate cancer as they move between primary and specialist care.
William J. Aronson, MD. We are fortunate in having a superb medical record system at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) where we can all communicate with each other through a number of methods. Let’s start our discussion by reviewing an index patient that we see in our practice who has been treated with either radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy. One question to address is: Is there a point when the Urology or Radiation Oncology service can transition the patient’s entire care back to the primary care team? And if so, what would be the optimal way to accomplish this?
Nick, is there some point at which you discharge the patient from the radiation oncology service and give specific directions to primary care, or is it primarily just back to urology in your case?
Nicholas G. Nickols, MD, PhD. I have not discharged any patient from my clinic after definitive prostate cancer treatment. During treatment, patients are seen every week. Subsequently, I see them 6 weeks posttreatment, and then every 4 months for the first year, then every 6 months for the next 4 years, and then yearly after that. Although I never formally discharged a patient from my clinic, you can see based on the frequency of visits, that the patient will see more often than their primary care provider (PCP) toward the beginning. And then, after some years, the patient sees their primary more than they me. So it’s not an immediate hand off but rather a gradual transition. It’s important that the PCP is aware of what to look for especially for the late recurrences, late potential side effects, probably more significantly than the early side effects, how to manage them when appropriate, and when to ask the patient to see our team more frequently in follow-up.
William Aronson. We have a number of patients who travel tremendous distances to see us, and I tend to think that many of our follow-up patients, once things are stabilized with regards to management of their side effects, really could see their primary care doctors if we can give them specific instructions on, for example, when to get a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test and when to refer back to us.
Alison, can you think of some specific cases where you feel like we’ve successfully done that?
Alison Neymark, MS. For the most part we haven’t discharged people, either. What we have done is transitioned them over to a phone clinic. In our department, we have 4 nurse practitioners (NPs) who each have a half-day of phone clinic where they call patients with their test results. Some of those patients are prostate cancer patients that we have been following for years. We schedule them for a phone call, whether it’s every 3 months, every 6 months or every year, to review the updated PSA level and to just check in with them by phone. It’s a win-win because it’s a really quick phone call to reassure the veteran that the PSA level is being followed, and it frees up an in-person appointment slot for another veteran.