Heading in the Right Direction

By Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OCW-C

The demographics of cancer in the U.S. are shifting. As outlined in the 2013 IOM report, Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis, our older population (age 65+) is continuing to expand as is the percentage of those ages 85 and above (from about 14% in 2010 to more than 21% in 2050). At the same time, our population is growing increasingly diverse.1 While our patient population evolves, advances in detection and treatment are bringing improvements to cancer care, while adding complexity.

All of these changes are taking place during a period of unprecedented transformation in our healthcare system.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that cancer care providers face a number of daunting challenges to their everyday delivery of care. For an example of this complexity, look no further than the proceedings from the latest National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Health Literacy Roundtable workshop, which discussed how to facilitate health communications with immigrant, refugee, and migrant populations by promoting health literacy and directly engaging these underserved communities.

As a result, cancer programs must constantly innovate and search for ways to provide the best care for patients. The final issue of Oncology Issues in 2017 features five very different articles focused on the common goal of promoting efficient and effective cancer care. In “The Community Health Worker,” ACCC Cancer Program member, Yuma Regional Medical Center Cancer Center, approached the challenge of communicating with their rural migrant population by hiring a community health worker to act as a liaison between cancer care services and the underserved.

There are so many ways to approach the ever-changing landscape of cancer care, but as I read through this issue’s articles, I realized that despite such seemingly disparate topics as community health workers, precision medicine, peer review for radiation therapy, multi-site integrated healthcare delivery, and disease site process mapping, they shared common themes:

  • Access
  • Communication
  • Patient experience
  • Coordination of care
  • Leveraging shared resources
  • Actionable data

Not too long ago, these themes were not at the forefront of our everyday practice concerns. We were operating in siloes, communication between departments was lacking, and data gathering was tedious at best. Instead of leveraging shared resources, the prevailing mindset was often “protect your turf.”

Today, our workplaces are not perfect. We still have a long way to go toward breaking down siloes and streamlining the collection of actionable data. As cancer care has become more complex and time and constraints have increased, effective communication among all members of the multidisciplinary cancer care team can be very challenging.

But after reading these articles, I was left hopeful. By tackling important issues proactively and looking for innovative solutions to new problems, ACCC member programs set examples for each other, share challenges and solutions, and by doing so, help elevate the quality of care nationwide.

If programs continue to strive in their own way to improve care in the areas reflected by these common themes, I’d say we’re headed in the right direction.

1. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis. Levit LA, Balogh EP, Nass SJ, Ganz PA. eds. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press; 2013.

Virginia Vaitones, MSW, OSW-C, is a past president of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). Most recently, she served as chair of the ACCC Editorial Committee.

Cancer programs seeking to become health literate organizations, can use ACCC’s health literacy gap assessment tool to identify areas of strength and areas for improvement. Learn more

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