Duarte, Calif.-based City of Hope National Medical Center is launching a new division to focus on the psychological implications of treatment and improve communication with patients.
The division of patient support services will be given equal weight with the medical and surgical divisions, according to Charles M. Balch, M.D., City of Hope's chief executive officer and president.
The cancer center is committing an initial $500,000 toward formation of the division, which will include a nationwide search for an executive to head it. Balch said it may be fully operational by late 1997.
In addition to the new division, affiliated resource centers will be established to give patients, their families and caregivers information on various diseases, hospice care and appropriate care for terminal illnesses.
"It's part of focusing on the whole patient and their family, and to give them more information about their disease and to cope with the dying process if necessary," Balch said. He noted that most treatment and pain management offered by hospitals is competent, but alternative treatment avenues are often underutilized.
"The more people understand their illness, the better they can ask questions and be more effective in the decisionmaking process as to their course of treatment. The quality of life involved is a perception that belongs to the patient, not the doctor," he said. "We oftentimes have patients with poor adjustment, who suffer from depression and chronic pain that often leads to chemical dependence. . . Our task for this proposed division will be to bring in psychologists, social workers, spiritual advisers, physical therapists and other experts in supportive services to act in a teamlike capacity and essentially become advocates for our patients."
Better outcomes are often the result of such a holistic approach, according to its leading advocates, such as John E. Wennberg, M.D., director for the Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences at Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, N.H. Wennberg's study at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H., of patients with enlarged prostates concluded those patients are often more satisfied with their course of treatment if given more information about alternatives to surgery. Lovelace Health System in Albuquerque, N.M., also is embarking on such an approach.