Children's Hospital Boston and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recently launched a new pediatric oncology service called Home Visits. Available through Dana-Farber/Children's
Hospital Cancer Care (DF/CHCC), the program helps newly
diagnosed patients and families adjust to living with cancer.
The new service is unique in that it focuses exclusively on the needs of families whose child has just been diagnosed. Within the first two days of the child's first inpatient discharge, a DF/CHCC staff nurse travels to the patient's home, coordinates treatment with the home care nurse, educates the family and helps them become
comfortable managing the child's medical needs.
Kendal Temple, RN, an Oncology Community Outreach Nurse who previously worked on Children's hematopoietic stem cell
transplantation unit, devotes herself full time to these visits. All of her current patients have acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and live within 90 minutes of Greater Boston. (As the program is getting off the ground, it's limited to patients who live within 90 minutes of Boston.) Patients with ALL, the most common type of childhood cancer, are at higher risk for treatment-related complications than are children with other forms of cancer.
Temple's supervisor, Kathy Houlahan, MS, RN, hematology/
oncology/stem-cell transplant nurse program manager at Children's, conceptualized the program and secured funding through
Dana-Farber. "In my 23 years at Children's, I've seen hundreds of families wrestle with conflicting emotions when they leave the
hospital," says Houlahan. "While families feel excited and relieved to be returning home, they also feel overwhelmed by the idea of
assuming primary care duties. Our hope is that Home Visits will
provide the support these patients and families need as they
transition back into the community."
Houlahan and Temple expect the educational aspect of the
program to improve communication between the home and hospital care teams, ensuring that patients return to Children's for advanced care at the earliest sign of a complication. "By meeting as a group in the home, everyone learns more about the patient's type of cancer, potential side effects and indications that a complication is
developing," Temple says. As the program grows, it will be extended to all newly diagnosed patients treated through DF/CHCC, as well as cancer patients nearing the end of life.
Home Visits is just one of several patient/family support services offered by the Oncology Community Outreach Program that help bridge the gap between hospital and home. Each program targets a specific transitional phase. For example, the Back to School program helps children adjust when they return to the classroom after an