The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the world’s leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer, and the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine (AAHPM), an organization representing physicians and healthcare professionals committed to improving the care of patients with serious or life-threatening conditions, earlier today announced a joint initiative to support delivery of high-quality palliative care in medical oncology.

This unique partnership initiative, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ), aims to address the complex care needs of patients with advanced cancer, including relief or prevention of symptoms – one goal of palliative care in oncology practice.

New learning environment
The three-year project will create a virtual learning collaborative (VLC), a web-based technology platform, to efficiently and broadly disseminate evidence-based palliative care approaches in oncology. This learning environment will include coordinated, customized learning modules, social networking capabilities, and a toolbox of evidence-based resources to help translate the latest research into the oncology practice.

Commenting on the project, ASCO President Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP noted: “We recognize that palliative care is an essential component of care for patients with cancer. This partnership will help get the latest palliative care evidence directly into the hands of oncologists so that palliative care can be provided as early as possible. Never before has technology been leveraged to quickly spread practice-changing research and to connect oncologists allowing them to share best practices in palliative care. This is truly innovative.”

Practice Changing Approach
The partnership between ASCO and AAHPM to forward broad implementation of palliative care for cancer patients who need it is also practice changing. Current AAHPM President, Timothy E. Quill, MD, FACP, FAAHPM, and President-Elect Amy P. Abernethy, MD, FACP, FAAHPM, co-authored a piece this month in the New England Journal of Medicine on the importance of coordinated generalist plus specialist palliative care “The oncologist or treating specialist could manage many palliative care problems, initiating a specialist palliative care consultation for more complex situations. The VLC moves this goal from concept to practical reality,” noted Abernethy, an oncologist and palliative medicine physician, and also Principal Investigator on the VLC grant.

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Pilot project
Twenty oncology practices from around the country will be recruited to participate in a structured practice improvement pilot project, enabled by the VLC. Pilot practices will report data on palliative care quality using ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative? (QOPI). They will share best practices and resources through the VLC, and benefit from expert and peer guidance as they implement local improvements. Qualitative and quantitative evaluation will assess oncology practitioners’ perceptions of the VLC; assess the impact of the VLC on performance related to primary palliative care, and inform additional refinements to the platform and the toolbox of content and resources. Ultimately, project leaders aim to provide a proven palliative care toolbox to all ASCO members for use in their practices, and to leverage the VLC platform to address other targets for practice improvement.

Benefits of care
Despite a growing consensus about the benefits of routine palliative care in oncology, results from QOPI demonstrate the need for improved symptom management, greater attention to psychosocial issues, discussions about goals of care, and appropriate referral to hospice – all core skills of palliative care. “The VLC project builds on ASCO’s long-standing leadership in fostering the delivery of palliative care in the oncology setting,” Abernethy said. “As palliative care is increasingly woven into the fabric of health care across specialties, it will be critical to see that it is well integrated within the cancer care delivery system.”

Improving Quality of Life
Palliative care emphasizes medically appropriate goal setting, open communication with patients and families, and meticulous symptom assessment and control. Palliative care interventions have been shown to improve patients’ life quality, symptoms, and satisfaction, as well as reduce caregiver stress. Research has confirmed the benefits of palliative care for patients with advanced cancer. Studies have shown that patients who received early palliative care had a better quality of life, less depression, and in some cases lived longer than those who had routine care.

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Information for patients
Palliative Care Courses (ASCO)
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