American Psychosocial Oncology Society Launches Psychosocial Distress Program

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Ruth McCorkle, PhD, FAAN, FAPOS

Carolyn D. Runowicz, MD

Mark Lazenby, PhD, APRN, FAPOS

We had been trying to get the NCI grant for over 5 years, and we are so pleased to finally have the funding to launch this program.

—Ruth McCorkle, PhD, FAAN, FAPOS

In February, the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) held its 11th Annual Conference in Tampa, Florida, and it marked a number of firsts. With over 500 registrants and more than 300 abstracts presented over the 3-day program, this was the largest APOS event to date. The theme of this year’s conference was Implementing Quality Care Standards for Psychosocial Oncology and Supportive Care.

Highlighting the conference was the keynote address by Carolyn D. Runowicz, MD, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University, University Park, and a member of ASCO’s Board of Directors. Dr. Runowicz addressed ASCO’s proposed response to the Institute of Medicine’s report, The Learning Health Care System in America, and presented details on CancerLinQ, ASCO’s rapid-learning health information technology initiative, which will provide oncologists with the tools necessary to achieve high-quality, high-value cancer care with better outcomes for their patients. She also told the audience about how CancerLinQ can be used to screen patients with cancer for psychological stress.

“Dr. Runowicz talked about how CancerLinQ can be a tool that APOS and psycho-oncologists can use to implement our quality care standards, particularly in screening patients for psychosocial distress, as well as a resource for real-time quality improvement research,” said Mark Lazenby, PhD, APRN, FAPOS, APOS Conference Chair and Assistant Professor of Nursing at Yale University School of Nursing, Orange, Connecticut. “That information was really exciting for us to hear.”

Screening Program Launch

This year’s conference also marked the launch of the Screening for Psychosocial Distress Program, a joint venture between APOS and the Yale University School of Nursing. Funded for 5 years by a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the 2-year educational program aims to prepare cancer care professionals in the development and implementation of a comprehensive distress-screening instrument to help determine patients’ levels of distress or depression.

The program includes assessment of patients for the sources of their distress, linking of patients and family members to psychosocial services, follow-up on referrals to psychosocial health-care resources, and use of ASCO’s Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI®) to measure the program’s effectiveness. Two people from a cancer care facility or private practice in any discipline—including oncologists, nurses, chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers—can receive the training.

How the Program Works

The first year of the Screening for Psychosocial Distress Program begins with a 1-day workshop held at the APOS Annual Conference and continues with videoconferences with experts in psycho-oncology every 3 months. The second year of the program includes an advanced 1-day workshop at the APOS conference and two videoconferences throughout the year.

The NCI grant covers the full tuition of the program for each participant, which includes the 1-day workshop held the day before the APOS Annual Conference, the registration fee to attend the APOS Annual Conference, and a $400 stipend to help defray costs for attending the workshop and conference.

“We had been trying to get the NCI grant for over 5 years, and we are so pleased to finally have the funding to launch this program,” said Ruth McCorkle, PhD, FAAN, FAPOS, Florence Schorske Wald Professor of Nursing and Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University.

At the inaugural workshop, the 39 oncology professionals accepted into the program represented cancer care facilities nationwide that serve a diverse population. “What is really interesting to me is that the facilities we accepted serve 13% of black or African Americans and 73% of Caucasian patients, and that mirrors the racial breakdown in the general population of the United States, so we were very pleased with that demographic,” said Dr. Lazenby. “Program participants came from urban, suburban, and rural parts of the country, and that was important, too, because we need to see how the program will work in different contexts and geographic locations.”

Applying for the Program

The next workshop of the Screening for Psychosocial Distress Program will be held in Washington, DC, on July 29, 2015, prior to the start of the joint APOS 12th Annual Conference and the International Psycho-Oncology Society’s 17th World Congress.

Applications for the 2015 workshop will be accepted in September 2014. To learn more about the program and receive notification when applications become available, go to ■

Disclosure: Drs. Runowicz, Lazenby, and McCorkle reported no potential conflicts of interest.