Geriatric Assessment Improves Communication Between Oncologists and Older Patients


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A FEDERALLY FUNDED randomized study demonstrated that use of geriatric assessment in the routine care of older adults with advanced cancer significantly improved doctor-patient communication about age-related concerns as well as patient satisfaction with the communication. The study was presented by Supriya Gupta Mohile, MD, MS, the Wehrheim Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester, New York, and colleagues at the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting.1 This is the first randomized study to show that geriatric assessment improves doctor-patient communication, according to the authors. 

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Geriatric Assessment 

GERIATRIC ASSESSMENT is the evaluation of age-related concerns pertaining to physical and mental health, nutrition, and social support, which are often not identified during a routine oncology visit and physical exam. In a recently published clinical practice guideline,2 ASCO recommended that geriatric assessment be used to identify vulnerabilities that are not routinely captured in oncology assessments in all patients aged 65 years and older who are receiving chemotherapy. Research suggests geriatric assessment is most widely used in major cancer centers with geriatric oncology programs but seldom used in other practice settings. 

In this study, the geriatric assessment included a standardized, written questionnaire and objective tests for physical performance and cognition. Researchers evaluated all patients with geriatric assessment, but only oncologists at practices randomly assigned to the intervention arm received the results of the geriatric assessment. Researchers found that doctors who received geriatric assessment results before meeting with their patient were more likely to discuss age-related concerns and recommend interventions to address them. 

“As oncologists, we need to step away from focusing solely on the cancer, especially in our older patients. While living longer is important, there are many non–cancer-related health issues that are as, if not more, important,” said Dr. Mohile. “Both patients and their caregivers clearly want the oncologist to discuss age-related concerns. Our study shows that geriatric assessment can help oncologists meet these needs for their older patients.” 

OF NOTE

Supriya Gupta Mohile, MD, MS, received the B.J. Kennedy Award for Scientific Excellence in Geriatric Oncology at the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting.

Approximately 70% of people with cancer are aged 65 and older, and the number of people with cancer over the age of 65 is projected to increase significantly over the next 20 years. 

About the Study 

THE RESEARCHERS randomly assigned 31 community oncology practices affiliated with the University of Rochester’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) Community Oncology Research Program to either the geriatric-assessment group or a usual-care group. Through these practices, information from 542 patients was included in this study. All were aged 70 years or older, with incurable, advanced solid tumors or lymphoma, and had an impairment in at least 1 measure on the geriatric assessment performed at study enrollment. The measures included function, physical performance, comorbidities, nutrition, social support, depression, and cognition. 

Although patients in both study arms received geriatric assessment, only oncologists in the geriatric-assessment arm received a Web-based summary of results from the assessment with recommendations for interventions for each patient prior to their next clinic visit. In the usual-care group, physicians were informed if geriatric assessment revealed a patient had significantly impaired cognition or depression, but they received no overall summary of results of the assessments or recommendations for care. 

ROLE OF GERIATRIC ASSESSMENT

  • In the geriatric assessment arm, there was a mean of 3.5 more discussions about age-related concerns during the clinic visits, compared to the usual-care arm.
  • On average, there were two more high-quality doctor-patient conversations in the geriatric-assessment arm than in the usual-care arm, and two more discussions led to interventions in the geriatric-assessment arm than in the usual-care arm.
  • Patient satisfaction with communication with their doctor was 1.12 points higher in the geriatric-assessment arm (difference statistically significant), suggesting that patients valued discussions about age-related concerns.

Clinic visits occurred within 4 weeks of the geriatric assessment. Researchers assessed the content and quality of doctor-patient communication through transcribed recordings of the conversation during one clinic visit for each patient in both study arms. Quality communication was defined as conversations where the physician gathered more information about age-related concerns, and patients’ concerns were addressed thoroughly. Patient satisfaction with doctor-patient communication was assessed through a telephone questionnaire following the clinic visit. 

In the geriatric-assessment arm, there was a mean of 3.5 more discussions about age-related concerns during the clinic visits, compared to the usual-care arm. On average, there were two more high-quality doctor-patient conversations in the geriatric-assessment arm than in the usual-care arm, and two more discussions led to interventions in the geriatric-assessment arm than in the usual-care arm. 

Interventions included physical therapy evaluation for patients with a history of falls, reducing or eliminating high-risk medications for a patient taking more than five prescription medications, and assessing decisional capacity in a patient with significant cognitive impairment. Patients in the geriatric-assessment arm had significantly more discussions about almost all age-related concerns measured by geriatric assessment. Patient satisfaction with communication with their doctor was 1.12 points higher in the geriatric-assessment arm (a statistically significant difference), suggesting that patients valued discussions about age-related concerns. 

Next Steps 

THE RESEARCHERS are evaluating whether the interventions resulting from geriatric assessments have a positive effect on patient function and quality of life, as well as caregiver satisfaction and quality of life. A separate ongoing study is evaluating whether geriatric assessment can reduce chemotherapy side effects by improving decision-making for older patients with advanced cancer. Several other randomized clinical trials are underway evaluating the effects of geriatric assessment on other outcomes. ■

DISCLOSURE: Dr. Mohile has been a consultant/advisor for Seattle Genetics. For full disclosures of all study authors, see the abstract at meetinglibrary.asco.org. 

REFERENCES 

1. Mohile SG, Epstein RM, Hurria A, et al: Improving communication with older patients with cancer using geriatric assessment. 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting. Abstract LBA10003. Presented June 3, 2018

2. Mohile SG, Dale W, Somerfield MR, et al: Practical assessment and management of vulnerabilities in older patients receiving chemotherapy: ASCO Guideline for Geriatric Oncology. J Clin Oncol. May 21, 2018 (early release online)


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Expert Point of View: Joshua A. Jones, MD, MA

A FEDERALLY FUNDED randomized study demonstrated that use of geriatric assessment in the routine care of older adults with advanced cancer significantly improved doctor-patient communication about age-related concerns as well as patient satisfaction with the communication. The study was presented...

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