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APA Cosponsors Briefing on IoM Report, "Cancer Care for the Whole Patient"

Congressional staff and members of the health advocacy community gathered on March 31, 2008, for a briefing on “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs.”

By Patricia Kobor

Congressional staff and members of the health advocacy community gathered on March 31, 2008, for a briefing on “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs.” APA and thirteen other behavioral science or health organizations cosponsored the Capitol Hill briefing on the recent Institute of Medicine (IoM) report.

Ten and a half million people in the USA are living with a current or past diagnosis of cancer, and 41% of all Americans can expect to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, according to the IoM report.

The report makes the case that it is not possible to deliver good-quality cancer care without addressing patients’ psychosocial health needs. All patients with cancer and their families should expect and receive cancer care that ensures the provision of appropriate psychosocial health services. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) asked the IoM to study the delivery of psychosocial services to cancer patients and their families and identify ways to improve it. This report recommends ten actions that oncology providers, health policy makers, educators, health insurers, health plans, quality oversight organizations, researchers and research sponsors, and consumer advocates should undertake to ensure that this standard is met.

Briefing speakers included psychologists Robert Croyle, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, and Jessie Gruman, President of the Center for the Advancement of Health and author of “AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives You -- or Someone You Love -- a Devastating Diagnosis;” Elizabeth Clark, Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers, completed the panel.

Croyle explained why the National Cancer Institute and NIH’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research had commissioned the report from the Institute of Medicine. NCI supports research on health communication, and hopes to use the report to guide additional research, especially on ways to improve communication between patients and providers.

Gruman, a member of the IoM panel that produced the report, said that doctors are so focused on eradicating cancer that they sometimes ignore the shock and other emotions that can hinder treatment. Even the best cancer treatment can fail if doctors don’t pay attention to the psychological and social needs of patients. Gruman, a three-time cancer survivor, spoke from data as well as personal experience.

Clark discussed the need to build capacity, both in the private sector and among health professionals, to make more comprehensive cancer care available in areas of the country outside of major university cancer centers. She also discussed the need for people with cancer to get help advocating for better treatment. Clark developed The Cancer Survival Toolbox, a self-advocacy training program for persons with cancer.