Survivorship care plans empower patients

A majority of cancer survivors gave the information provided through care plans a favorable rating, according to a new study that examined the online LIVESTRONG Care Plan. Providing patients who have completed cancer treatment with survivorship care plans was added to the criteria for Commission on Cancer accreditation of cancer centers, effective in 2015.

Despite the close watch from health care providers cancer patients receive during their treatment, who—an oncologist, a primary care physician, or another type of specialty physician—is responsible for mechanizing the disparate aspects of a cancer survivor's health, from monitoring for and managing late effects of therapy to ordering routine preventive health screenings such as bone density tests and colonoscopies, is often not clear. Consequently, important health needs among cancer survivors may go unmet. The study was published in Cancer (2013; doi:10.1002/cncr.28286).

"The one constant in the care of cancer survivors is the survivor him- or herself," said lead author Christine Hill-Kayer, MD, an assistant professor of Radiation Oncology at Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "By providing the survivor with the resources to know which tests need to be ordered in the form of a written document, a survivorship care plan enables the survivor to take more control of his or her care, and to participate in minimizing the 'slip through the cracks' phenomenon."

The research team studied 298 cancer survivors who used the LIVESTRONG Care Plan between May 2010 and January 2013 culled from a group of 8,690 patients who completed plans during that timeframe, each of whom completed a survey about their experience using the site 1 month after completing their plan. Each user received a care plan after inputting demographic information and data about their diagnosis and types of treatments received.

A total of 93% of users reported that the information provided through the care plans was excellent, very good, or good. Importantly, the findings reveal that the care plans fill a knowledge gap: 65% of patients said the information received was new to them and had not been previously provided by health care providers. Further, 94% of patients felt they would recommend it to others. Also, 80% shared or planned to share it with their health care team, and of those who had already done so, 80% reported that it improved communication. More than 60% felt that the survivorship care plan changed their health care participation, and more than half of users reported that they had made or planned to make a lifestyle change in response to information they obtained from the care plan, most commonly dietary modification and increased exercise.

"Our results show that care plans are empowering patients to become more active participants in their own health care," Hill-Kayser said. "This is an important tool that provides patients with greater education and prompts them to be more proactive about their care and more likely to discuss concerns with their providers."
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