Giving a Voice to Head and Neck Cancer Patients

A poster presented during the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) Congress discussed the creation of a tool to allow patients with head and neck cancer to communicate postoperatively.

“In the year 2020, it was estimated that almost 4% of new cancer cases in the United States would be of oral cavity or pharyngeal in nature. The majority of these patients are men, oftentimes over 60 years old, and many of them are not real familiar or comfortable with using technology such as cell phones. We wanted to come up with a tool to help them communicate their needs in the postoperative period,” said Kim Stephenson, ADN, RN, who presented the poster.

This led to the creation of POCA, or post-op communication aid. POCA is a clipboard with a laminated card with several typed phrases that portray common needs among patients. The list of approximately 20 phrases was created following postoperative interviews with patients and their families, nursing team members, and surgeons.

The back of the card is blank and includes a dry erase marker so patients can write more specific messages to staff members if needed. POCA is introduced to patients and their family members during preoperative teaching.

The need for such a tool addresses not only patient satisfaction but safety as well.

“Imagine being in the recovery room or in the room after surgery and you can’t tell your care team that you’re cold or you’re needing pain medicine, or maybe you might need to get up and go to the restroom. I cant imagine how frustrating and scary that must be,” Stephenson said.

POCA has been positively received by staff and patients and their families alike. The tool could also be useful for other patient populations, such as those with tracheostomy or dysphasia syndromes.