PURPOSE - Patients receiving cancer-related thoracotomy are highly symptomatic in the first weeks after surgery. This study examined whether at-home symptom monitoring plus feedback to clinicians about severe symptoms contributes to more effective postoperative symptom control.
PATIENTS AND METHODS - We enrolled 100 patients receiving thoracotomy for lung cancer or lung metastasis in a two-arm randomized controlled trial; 79 patients completed the study. After hospital discharge, patients rated symptoms twice weekly for 4 weeks via automated telephone calls. For intervention group patients, an e-mail alert was forwarded to the patient's clinical team for response if any of a subset of symptoms (pain, disturbed sleep, distress, shortness of breath, or constipation) reached a predetermined severity threshold. No alerts were generated for controls. Group differences in symptom threshold events were examined by generalized estimating equation modeling.
RESULTS - The intervention group experienced greater reduction in symptom threshold events than did controls (19% v 8%, respectively) and a more rapid decline in symptom threshold events. The difference in average reduction in symptom interference between groups was -0.36 (SE, 0.078; P = .02). Clinicians responded to 84% of e-mail alerts. Both groups reported equally high satisfaction with the automated system and with postoperative symptom control.
CONCLUSION - Frequent symptom monitoring with alerts to clinicians when symptoms became moderate or severe reduced symptom severity during the 4 weeks after thoracic surgery. Methods of automated symptom monitoring and triage may improve symptom control after major cancer surgery. These results should be confirmed in a larger study.