GPs need more information to understand radiotherapy

How radiotherapy teams can improve the care of their patients outside of hospital

Published: 21 June 2021 Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy teams can improve the care of their patients outside of hospital by giving GPs and primary care services more information about treatments and side effects.

Research presented at the virtual UK Imaging & Oncology Congress 2021 revealed low levels of knowledge and confidence in answering questions from their patients undergoing radiotherapy or experiencing late effects.

Kelsey Normand, advanced practitioner in education and development at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, said historically GPs had a limited role in cancer care but were now expected to deliver a more integrated model of care and a person-centred approach.

‘GPs and primary care are now playing an increased role,’ she said. ‘They are often the professionals answering questions after patients have had quite overwhelming initial consultations with specialists. Patients tend to go back to the GP they know and ask questions like “what is radiotherapy?” and “what’s it going to be like?”.

Kelsey said primary care teams were managing acute side effects of radiotherapy because these often peak after the treatment has finished and GPs were often the patient’s first point of contact. They were also responding to late effects when the patient did not necessarily realise that their symptoms were related to their treatment. So the changing models of care are demanding more tasks from primary care but they do not have the right tools to tackle them,’ said Kelsey.

She surveyed 97 GPs in the Lothian area on 10 key scenarios when they might have to respond to the needs of radiotherapy patients, ranging from explaining radiotherapy to recognising indications for emergency radiotherapy. While 95% of GPs said they had cared for a patient undergoing radiotherapy, only 4% agreed that radiotherapy information was easy to access.

GPs’ highest confidence levels were on indications for palliative or emergency radiotherapy. However, these only reached about 60%, and confidence was particularly low on how radiotherapy interacts with other medications they prescribe to patients.

Kelsey said that in response to the findings, the radiotherapy team added more useful information into the reference systems used by primary care professionals.

‘While it’s right that we talk about right care in the right place, it’s also very important that we have the right information so patients understand their options. It’s not about every other professional being an expert in radiotherapy, we just need to ensure the information we already have is available to them.’