Workshop Highlights Patient Perspective in Care

The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship and the Institute of Medicine’s National Cancer Policy Forum hosted “Patient-Centered Cancer Treatment Planning: Improving the Quality of Oncology Care,” a workshop that addressed ways to improve coordinated and comprehensive patient-centered cancer care.

Tom Sellers, president and CEO of NCCS, said it was critical to partner with IOM for the workshop so that NCCS could identify best practices among providers for patient-centered cancer treatment planning, especially right after diagnosis.

Promoting open and positive dialogue between newly diagnosed cancer patients and their health care team is critical to ensuring that a patient’s preferences are included in his or her cancer care planning from the beginning, Sellers noted.

“Far too often, the patient perspective isn’t considered during cancer treatment planning and treatment decisions,” he said. “An open dialogue will ensure the voice of the patient is being heard. That is why the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship is helping provide cancer survivors the tools to be their own informed advocates during and after treatment.”

The workshop highlighted the need to integrate the patient perspective in cancer treatment planning and provided models of treatment planning and tools to facilitate such goals. Speakers and attendees also discussed ways those in oncology practice could promote patient-centeredness by having patients better understand the goals of treatment through a shared decision-making process with their health care team from diagnosis onward.

Sellers explained that cancer is not just one disease. “For nearly all types of cancer, there are multiple treatment options,” he said. An open dialogue between the health care providers and patients that begins at diagnosis, continues through treatment and then finally to follow-up survivorship care offers the patients an opportunity to understand the goals of treatment and the pros and cons of various treatment options, Sellers explained.

“It is my hope that through our efforts at NCCS, we can continue to give cancer survivors the information they need to get the highest quality of care,” he said.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, who has maintained an interest in oncology, especially as it relates to clinical practice, presented at the workshop. Her presentation, “Psychosocial Provider Perspectives on Communication,” was held during a session that highlighted the importance of effective communication when creating a cancer treatment plan.

Clark explained that it is generally accepted among experts in psychosocial behavior that the capacity to be self-reliant and move forward is temporarily stalled when a person faces a cancer diagnosis.

Uncertainty, the possibility of difficult medical regimens, financial stress and changing family roles are among the psychosocial challenges that can surface for a person facing news of cancer.

A 2007 IOM report, “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient,” supports the need for psychosocial health services in oncology treatment to promote better health.

Clark explained that psychosocial services in cancer treatment are being challenged by a workforce shortage, limited access to services, underfunding and the increasingly complex needs of patients.

Because of this, there is a new urgency to recruit, retain and retrain the workforce that offers psychosocial services.

Besides those who offer these mental health services, Clark said advances have been made in helping people with cancer become better self-advocates. There are several organizations that support this effort, Clark pointed out, including the Cancer Support Community; NCCS, which sponsors the Cancer Survival Toolbox® and C-Change, which hosts patient cancer patient navigation [no longer available], a tool that can build confidence, hope, opportunity and to improve the quality of life for those with a cancer diagnosis.

Clark’s recommendations included building communication channels that link stakeholders in patient-centered care into a community that includes trust, openness and teamwork.