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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2000 Jan;19(1):40-4.

A chart review of the ordering and documentation of urine toxicology screens in a cancer center: do they influence patient management?

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Oncology Symptom Control Research, Community Cancer Care Inc., Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA.


Urine toxicology screens (UTSs) may be useful in the diagnosis or monitoring of patients with established or suspected substance abuse. In the medically ill, including those with cancer, the test may help clinicians manage therapy with controlled prescription drugs. To describe the current use of UTSs in a cancer center, the medical records of 111 patients who underwent UTS were reviewed. These 111 patients were randomly selected from a group of 215 patients who underwent screening between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 1994 (a period during which over 80,000 admissions occurred). Fifty-six of the 111 patients had evidence of one or more illicit drugs, a prescription medication that had not been ordered, or alcohol; 50 patients had negative screens. The likelihood of a positive UTS was higher if the patient had human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection (100% versus 46.6%) or was undergoing treatment for chronic nonmalignant pain (100% versus 43.9%). Documentation of the UTS in the medical record was infrequent: 37.8% of the charts listed no reason for obtaining the test and the ordering physician could not be identified in 29% of the records. Eighty-nine percent of the records did not contain a subsequent mention of the result of the UTS. The result was more likely to lead to a documented outcome when it was positive rather than negative (14.3% versus 0%). These results suggest that UTSs are used infrequently in the tertiary care oncology center. The documentation surrounding the ordering and subsequent use of the test in patient management is unsystematic. The appropriate use and documentation of UTSs, like substance abuse issues in general, should be a focus of staff education and quality improvement efforts.

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