The Complicated Role of Oncology Pharmacist/Caregiver in Managing Patient Care, Treatment

Sarah Wheeler, PharmD, BCOP, clinical pharmacy specialist in Hematology/Oncology at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, discusses some of the barriers that patients with cancer may encounter following their diagnosis.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Sarah Wheeler, PharmD, BCOP, clinical pharmacy specialist in Hematology/Oncology at UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital, on her session at the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association 2022 annual conference session titled ‘And The Title We Didn’t Train for: Navigating the Balance Between Being a Caregiver AND an Oncology Pharmacist.’

During this discussion, Wheeler addresses some of the barriers that patients with cancer may encounter following their diagnosis and what the role of caregivers is in helping patients manage these barriers as they arise.

Sarah Wheeler: I think there are a lot of barriers that patients run into once they get diagnosed with cancer, and a lot of different ways that caregivers can be very helpful in navigating through those barriers.

Whenever someone is diagnosed with cancer, it becomes a whole whirlwind that you get caught up in, and you kind of feel like your identity lags behind. There's a shuffle from appointment to appointment, and I think sometimes one way that caregivers can be helpful is keeping track of calendars—keeping track of appointments can be helpful because there's a lot of them—and getting them all coordinated to help the person who does have cancer, who can't always necessarily think straight, think about what days are going to be best, trying to coordinate the appointments together so they're clustered instead of having to come to the clinic every day, where maybe you could do a couple of them on one day—that can be helpful.

Other ways that caregivers can help navigate through things is with other barriers—sometimes getting appointments in the first place or getting documentation to help you get the appointment. So, let's say you were diagnosed in one place, wanted to have a referral to a different place—caregivers can call and make sure that all the paperwork is sent over, and that the other places received it and can keep track of trying to help to get those appointments set up.

Other things that they can do is keep track of the logistics of stuff that potentially the patient with cancer can't. So, when the symptoms start, help them be a historian about what's happened in their care to this point, so they can go to the appointments and say, ‘Hey, this is what's happened so far, this is the presenting sets of symptoms, this is what I noticed, and this is what they noticed,’ and help the providers to have a really good idea of everything that's happened to that point and both the way the patients felt but also the tests and other things that have been done. Any biopsy results, anything like that, so they can help go through those kinds of things.

Caregivers, a lot of times, can just help to take the burden off the patient so the patient can be the patient. And then the caregiver does a lot of the logistics behind the scenes, [such as] calling pharmacies to get medications refilled or [checking] if they’re ready. Assisting in getting co-pay assistance as medications are expensive—that's a big barrier sometimes is the cost of medications. Getting paperwork filled out for co-pay assistance can be helpful or if there's any grant funding that's needed—that can be helping from that standpoint. Helping coordinate with the office if a prior authorization is needed for medication—there's, unfortunately, a lot of barriers. So, caregivers, a lot of times, just can help to navigate through those logistics for the patient, so they can just focus on their health.