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Practice profile: Teaming up for better patient care

September 10, 2013

It’s often said that the sum is greater than the individual parts. For the team and patients at the Pain and Palliative Care Clinic at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, these words couldn’t ring more true.

The full clinic staff consists of two pain and palliative care specialist physicians, two pharmacists (shared full-time position) and one part-time clinical nurse. As individual practitioners, they are all accomplished and represent the very best of their chosen discipline. Dr. Neil Hagen, Senior Palliative Care Specialist Consultant, is a world-renowned physician in cancer pain management. Dr. Srini Chary, Senior Palliative Care Specialist Consultant, has a wealth of experience from surgery to radiation oncology to chronic pain. Dean England is an outstanding clinical pharmacist with limitless compassion. Pharmacist Chris Ralph is a voracious learner with a knack for finding unique nuggets of information. And clinic nurse Renee Lee is the glue that binds the team, always keeping them organized and efficient.

Combined, this team exemplifies the true spirit of a collaborative patient care practice. But to what do they attribute their success? “First, we want the absolute best for our patients,” explains Dean. “In addition, we have a mutual respect and trust for each other’s unique skills and knowledge.”

All hands on deck for patient intake

The work for the team begins even before the patient steps foot into the Tom Baker Centre. Before the first meeting with a new patient, Dean or Chris review the patient’s electronic chart as well as any relevant lab results and medications via Alberta Netcare. On a typical clinic day, Renee will help the patient complete the assessment forms, connect them with community resources and then debrief the other team members. Dr. Hagen or Dr. Chary assess the patient, and then a treatment plan is formulated between the physician and pharmacist. The team works together to ensure that all the patient’s questions are answered and that they are comfortable with the information that has been provided. After this, the patient returns home, but continues to receive top notch care from the clinic.

Pharmacists follow up

It is during non-clinic days where the pharmacists feel they have an even greater impact on patient care. Depending on each patient’s circumstance and severity of pain, Chris or Dean performs follow up phone calls to ensure adherence, efficacy and minimal adverse effects with the treatment plan. On average, they will be following 20 to 30 patients. Depending on the patient’s needs, a follow up call can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour or more. In addition, documentation with every phone call is key to ensuring Chris and Dean provide seamless care.

Although time consuming, Dean sees great value in the follow up calls. “Our patients know they can count on us to listen and help. These follow up calls open the door as to why they may be struggling and can result in important changes or a referral to other resources and health care professionals.”  Chris couldn’t agree more with the importance of their follow up. “After patients leave the clinic, it is our goal to ensure they feel well cared for as opposed to being overwhelmed with information and feeling alone.” 

The rewards

Chris and Dean have become so effective at managing patients through phone calls that few patients return on clinic days for in-person follow up. This has opened up the opportunity for the clinic to welcome new patients on a regular basis. 
The team agrees that even though their patients are more often than not facing a difficult road ahead, they find strength in their patients’ courage. “It is truly rewarding to have the opportunity to make a real difference in the quality of life for our patients,” says Dean. Chris adds, “I know it’s the right job for me when, at the end of the day, I only wish that I had more time to accomplish even more!” In return, patients are most thankful that they are in the hands of such a capable and caring team. 

The Pain and Palliative Care Clinic Team at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre are this year’s winners of the APEX Partners in Practice Award.