Oncology groups release standards for safe administration of chemotherapy

Two major medical associations are releasing the first-ever national standards for safe administration of chemotherapy drugs. These policies seek to serve as a benchmark for providers of adult cancer care and encourage them to evaluate their current standards. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS), which represent doctors and nurses who treat people with cancer, developed the standards to reduce the risk of errors and provide a framework for best practices in cancer care.

According to the release, more than 60 percent of people diagnosed with cancer receive chemotherapy at some point during their treatment, and patient safety is a top priority for oncology professionals. Despite a body of studies on chemotherapy administration, however, few national standards for patient safety have been developed.

The 31 standards issued by ASCO and ONS cover a range of processes related to chemotherapy, including:

  • Staff education and training.
  • Chemotherapy ordering, preparation and administration.
  • Patient education and informed consent. 
  • Assessing how patients respond to treatment.
  • Monitoring toxicity of the treatment to the patient.

In order to avoid chemotherapy administration errors, ASCO and ONS state that practitioners must follow standardized approaches for chemotherapy delivery, develop and follow policies and procedures for system improvement, and undertake a multi-disciplined review of errors when needed.  ASCO and ONS also recommend increased use of electronic medical record systems, which may lead to improvement in the safety and quality of outpatient chemotherapy administration. E-prescribing, for example, may prove to be a tool for reducing errors in chemotherapy ordering, as automated systems can reduce errors in regimen selection in a busy clinical setting.

For a copy of the standards and available supplemental materials, visit www.asco.org/safety.

(SOURCES: HCPro Patient Safety Monitor, http://hcpro.com, September 30, 2009; American Society of Clinical Oncology, http://asco.org, accessed October 1, 2009)