Coordinating Care, Addressing Distress Paramount to Supporting Breast Cancer Survivors, Says Polaris Scientist

Transitioning from being a breast cancer patient to being a breast cancer survivor can be an anxious, difficult time. The Institute of Medicine recommends the development of a plan to assist in this transition, yet oncologists struggle to map out a comprehensive cancer survivorship program.

In 2013 the National Cancer Institute awarded Polaris Health Directions and the University of Massachusetts Medical School a grant to build a tailored, automated oncology survivor transition system to support patients as they monitor and maintain their health and manage the psychosocial and physical challenges that arise in the aftermath of cancer.

On November 21, 2014, Dr. Tina Harralson, science director at Polaris, presented on qualitative findings from the early phases of the project at the 48th annual Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies convention, in Philadelphia.

The purpose of the investigation that Dr. Harralson discussed sought to best understand the needs and preferences of survivors, oncologists and primary care physicians to ensure a fluid and functional product design.

Themes that emerged during the interviews with each of these three groups included:

Oncologists placed an emphasis on a product that can communicate with an electronic health record system, is disease specific, and is efficient and brief. It should also align with documentation goals for accreditation, they reported.

Primary care physicians also prioritized brevity, along with improved coordination with oncology treatment teams. In addition, they valued a survivorship plan that offered clear guidance on cancer monitoring and testing, and when referral back to the oncology team is appropriate.

Patients stressed the need for a support system following breast cancer. They discussed the fear of recurrence and heightened state of anxiety, and an uncertainty about what is “normal” following treatment. They described the perspective they gained through their cancer experience, and their interpretations of what it means to be a survivor.

The resulting oncology survivor transition system has been incorporated into Polaris’s Polestar Oncology platform, along with a Patient Navigation module, creating a single source solution to support a cancer patient from diagnosis through survivorship.

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The project described was supported by Award Number R41 CA 174048 from the National Cancer Institute. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.