This content was written by Nicholeah Lewallen, PharmD, BCPS
Patients who have been diagnosed with cancer interact with many healthcare professionals and support services staff along their journey. They may see some providers only once or twice. Patients may see others regularly enough to think of them as family. There are some members of the care team patients may not even realize have a huge impact on the treatment journey. The team of Oncology Pharmacists play an extraordinary role in keeping patients safe and moving their treatment forward.
According to the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association, “The oncology pharmacist is often one of the few team members that fully understands the safety, efficacy, pharmacologic, and financial components of patient care in individuals with cancer.”1. Their extensive education and training prepare them with an in-depth knowledge of treatment medicines as well as the ways these medicines and targeted therapies can affect patients. They understand treatments’ impact on patients in terms of interactions with other things, impact on patients’ other diseases or health issues, as well as spotting and managing side effects, and suggestions for navigating the costs of therapies. Oncology pharmacists are also involved in developing practice processes and policies, managing investigational therapies, and working with the clinical research team. Not only do they provide patient education, but they deliver important training to the whole medical care team to ensure the team stays up to date with the latest developments.
How do Oncology Pharmacists use their expert knowledge to keep patients safe? Here are five important examples:
1. Specialized Dosing
Every time you come to the infusion center to get your treatment, the pharmacists make sure your drug is made just for you. The pharmacists check your weight in the computer system once you arrive in the infusion center and compare that with your treatment prescriptions. If there has been a major change in your weight, your dose may need to be modified. If you weigh more or less than you did the previous time, a certain amount of medicine or targeted therapy will have a different impact on your body.
This potential for changes in dose is why at Thompson Cancer Survival Center your medication is not made until you are ready for it, so it can be made specialized for you, at that exact point in your treatment journey. This personalization ensures you will receive the most effective and safe levels of treatment for your body.
2. Lab Results
Oncology pharmacists review your lab test results before making your medication. Any meaningful changes in your lab values are discussed with your doctor to make sure you receive the correct dose of treatment, every time. As with changes in your weight, changes in your bloodwork could mean your prescribed treatment may not be as effective or safe for you and would need to be adjusted to deliver the appropriate levels.
3. Checks, Checks, and more Checks
In addition to checking weight and lab results, oncology pharmacists check the doctors’ orders and prescriptions. These experts make sure the correct medications and labs are actually ordered by the physician for each patient compared to what the doctor’s office note says they wanted to order.
Oncology pharmacists also check themselves. At Thompson, everything about your medication is entered into the computer system by one oncology pharmacist and then a second oncology pharmacist independently checks every step the first pharmacist completed to make sure nothing was missed. This extraordinary set of steps prevent mistakes or misunderstandings which could arise from human error if only one person was responsible for the process.
4. Making Your Medications
Oncology pharmacists make sure that you receive the correct amount of drug and that your medications are made correctly. Many people may not realize that cancer medications are made, or compounded, of different ingredients at the time of use. A pharmacy technician compounds your drugs specifically for you.
At Thompson, our Pharmacy Technicians have received special training learning how to mix chemotherapy or targeted treatments. While those drugs are being made, the overseeing pharmacist is making sure the correct medication is picked, the correct dose is removed from the vial, the correct fluid bag is selected, and the necessary pieces are all attached.
5. Clean as a Whistle
Your medications are made in a special limited-access room that is very clean to keep you safe. This is a different level of cleanliness from the typical housekeeping regimens undertaken to keep the general healthcare environment clean. Every person that goes into the room has to wear special clothing (you can imagine the gowns and scrubs you have seen surgical teams wear) and use special equipment to keep the room clean. Oncology pharmacists and technicians wear gowns, gloves, and covers over their shoes, hair, and face. They also clean the room every day using specific methods and materials. Special testing that measures how clean the air and surfaces are used with regularity to make sure the levels indicate we are exceeding standards and doing everything we can to keep you safe.
At Thompson Cancer Survival Center we are dedicated to delivering the highest levels of patient care. We strive for excellence in all we do to put our patients first. The extra steps and double or triple checks our team of Oncology Pharmacists and Oncology Pharmacy Technicians consistently take to ensure patient safety is another asset that sets Thompson apart as a leader in clinical care.
- Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association. The role of hematology/oncology pharmacists. August 22, 2014. Retrieved June 16, 2021 from https://www.hoparx.org/.
- International Society of Oncology Pharmacy Practitioners. Position statement: Role of the oncology pharmacy team in cancer care. March 1, 2021. Retrieved June 16, 2021 from https://www.isopp.org .