The Oncology Pharmacist's Blind Spot

Pharmacy Practice in Focus: OncologySeptember 2019
Volume 3
Issue 1

Hematology and oncology pharmacists discussed patient outreach at a panel during the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association’s (HOPA) annual conference in April.

Hematology and oncology pharmacists discussed patient outreach at a panel during the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association’s (HOPA) annual conference in April.

In a 2002 survey by the American Cancer Society, of 1241 questionnaires from oncology physicians, nurses, and social workers, more than 70% knew of support services but less than 60% recommended them to patients.1 This is the gap the HOPA Patient Outreach Committee is trying to close.

Kellie Jones Weddle, PharmD, BCOP, FCCP, FHOPA, chair of the HOPA Patient Outreach Committee, said their vision is to cultivate partnerships with patient advocacy groups and provide information and dispel myths about clinical trials.

After Weddle discussed the committee’s goals, 4 panelists shared their experiences in dealing with patient outreach and education. The panelists included Karen DeMairo and Mel Mann, MBA, from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; Cassadie Moravek from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network; and Tara Withington, CAE, from the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC). Improving access to basic information for patients, physicians, pharmacists, and other stakeholders was an area of focus throughout the discussion.

“We need to know where to get it, get it fast, and know the information is good,” Weddle said.

Withington agreed and said SITC offers specialized portals on their website for patients, researchers, and practitioners to facilitate access to information. She emphasized that collaboration between all these groups is crucial to improving knowledge about patient support services, including counseling, support groups, and clinical trials.

When Weddle surveyed the audience via the HOPA conference app, more than half said they referred up to 20% of patients to outreach organizations within the past month. “I think this shows a huge awareness for us in things we can work on,” she said, adding that pharmacists’ roles extend beyond drugs into patient support.

Clinical trials are a vital piece of patient support, which Mann credited with saving his life. After receiving a diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia 24 years ago and undergoing traditional treatments for 18 months, Mann heard about several clinical trials at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Finally, nearly 3 years after his diagnosis, Mann enrolled in a clinical trial for imatinib mesylate (Gleevec), which was effective. He went into complete remission.

“Our goal is to contact every [patient with] blood cancer within the first 90 days so that they don’t have to wait 18 months to find out what a clinical trial is or start a new drug, because they may have a more aggressive disease,” Mann said. Outreach methods discussed included animated videos to dispel misinformation about clinical

trials, booklets and pamphlets with information on how the trials work, and videos on how to communicate with physicians about searching for clinical trials.

Ultimately, the panelists and the HOPA Patient Outreach Committee have the same goal of bringing better education and access to patients

with cancer, whether it’s about their disease, treatment options, or support.

Aislinn Antrim, Assistant Editor


1. Matthews BA, Baker F, Spillers RL. Healthcare professionals' awareness of cancer support services. Cancer Pract. 2002;10(1):36-44.

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