Interventions to improve the continuity of care in the follow-up of patients with cancer

Cancer is a very complex disease characterised by varying clinical features and treatment phases. The continuum of cancer care includes risk assessment, primary prevention, screening, detection, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, and end-of-life care. Continuity of care is defined as how one patient experiences care over time, as coherent and linked, and is the result of good information flow, good interpersonal skills, and good coordination of care. The objectives of this review were to classify, describe and determine the effectiveness of interventions tested in the literature to improve continuity of care in the follow-up of patients with cancer.

Three main models of care (case management, shared care and interdisciplinary team) designed to improve continuity of care were identified in the 51 studies included in this review. We found no standard instruments that allow to specifically measure continuity of care in patients with cancer. According to our analysis, there was no clear evidence that the interventions assessed in this review either improved or worsened patient health-related outcomes. Therefore, our analyses did not allow us to draw firm conclusions on the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve continuity of care in the follow-up of patients with cancer.

Few studies reported provider and informal caregiver outcomes, as well as process of care outcomes, so they could not be regrouped for analysis. The main limitations of this review were the various differences between the included studies, especially in their study designs, interventions, participants, patients' phase of care, measured outcomes, healthcare settings, and length of follow-up.

More relevant research is needed to sort out which interventions aiming to improve continuity of care in the follow-up of patients with cancer are the most beneficial to improve patient, provider and process of care outcomes. Future research should identify which outcomes are the most sensitive to change and the most meaningful regarding continuity of care. Also, it would be valuable to develop a standardised instrument to measure continuity of care in patients with cancer.

Authors' conclusions: 

Results from this Cochrane review do not allow us to conclude on the effectiveness of included interventions to improve continuity of care on patient, healthcare provider or process of care outcomes. Future research should evaluate interventions that target an improvement in continuity as their primary objective and describe these interventions with the categories proposed in this review. Also of importance, continuity measures should be validated with persons with cancer who have been followed in various settings.

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Care from the family physician is generally interrupted when patients with cancer come under the care of second-line and third-line healthcare professionals who may also manage the patient’s comorbid conditions. This situation may lead to fragmented and uncoordinated care, and results in an increased likelihood of not receiving recommended preventive services or recommended care.


To classify, describe and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions aiming to improve continuity of cancer care on patient, healthcare provider and process outcomes.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organization of Care Group (EPOC) Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, and PsycINFO, using a strategy incorporating an EPOC Methodological filter. Reference lists of the included study reports and relevant reviews were also scanned, and ISI Web of Science and Google Scholar were used to identify relevant reports having cited the studies included in this review.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (including cluster trials), controlled clinical trials, controlled before and after studies and interrupted time series evaluating interventions to improve continuity of cancer care were considered for inclusion. We included studies that involved a majority (> 50%) of adults with cancer or healthcare providers of adults with cancer. Primary outcomes considered for inclusion were the processes of healthcare services, objectively measured healthcare professional, informal carer and patient outcomes, and self-reported measures performed with scales deemed valid and reliable. Healthcare professional satisfaction was included as a secondary outcome.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers described the interventions, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. The authors contacted several investigators to obtain missing information. Interventions were regrouped by type of continuity targeted, model of care or interventional strategy and were compared to usual care. Given the expected clinical and methodological diversity, median changes in outcomes (and bootstrap confidence intervals) among groups of studies that shared specific features of interest were chosen to analyse the effectiveness of included interventions.

Main results: 

Fifty-one studies were included. They used three different models, namely case management, shared care, and interdisciplinary teams. Six additional interventional strategies were used besides these models: (1) patient-held record, (2) telephone follow-up, (3) communication and case discussion between distant healthcare professionals, (4) change in medical record system, (5) care protocols, directives and guidelines, and (6) coordination of assessments and treatment.

Based on the median effect size estimates, no significant difference in patient health-related outcomes was found between patients assigned to interventions and those assigned to usual care. A limited number of studies reported psychological health, satisfaction of providers, or process of care measures. However, they could not be regrouped to calculate median effect size estimates because of a high heterogeneity among studies.