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Surviving Cancer, Together
Dr. Doreen Wiggins, the director of the Cancer Survivorship Program at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative, explains a new approach to helping women who have completed their cancer treatment.
There are few diagnoses that carry the weight of the term “cancer.” When someone receives their diagnosis, it’s typically life-changing. I recognize that, and I also recognize that their journey through treatment is never an easy one.
Once a patient comes out the other side and moves into the “cancer survivor” category, there is certainly cause to celebrate. But there are still issues and challenges that can arise for survivors.
The Shared Medical Appointment
Here at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative, we have instituted a model of care that our patients have found very beneficial in their journey through survivorship – the Shared Medical Appointment (SMA).
Our Women’s Cancer Survivorship SMA was created to bring female cancer survivors together to address needs and medical concerns that occur beyond diagnosis and treatment.
If the term “shared medical appointment” conjures visions of women in johnnies sitting together in an exam room, fear not! The SMA is an opportunity for patients who are dealing with similar health-related issues to meet in a comfortable group setting, fully clothed. Shared medical appointments are offered nationwide, and most patients express greater satisfaction with this type of visit than with a traditional office visit.
The benefits of the SMA
When cancer treatment is finished, survivors often feel isolated and experience a void or lack of physical and psychosocial support. The SMA supports healthy lifestyle adaptations to living beyond a cancer diagnosis. Patients leave with more information and answers to questions they never thought to ask.
In our ongoing program, we have found that survivors have many long-term side effects from treatment that are often unaddressed. They may experience chronic pain, lymphedema, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction and significant weight gain. The complexity of cancer survivors’ medical and psychosocial concerns require the expertise of multiple practitioners that we are able to bring to our patients during a shared medical appointment.
An SMA team includes a provider, medical assistant, group facilitator, and often a guest specialist. An SMA offers many benefits, including:
- Increased access to care by seeing a multidisciplinary care team.
- More time with your health care provider – a 90-minute meeting with no waiting room time.
- Personal attention from a medical team.
- Help in setting goals and identifying strategies to improve your health.
- Help and support of other patients who have a shared experience.
- Opportunity and ample time to ask questions in a relaxed setting.
If you like the format, you can request a shared medical appointment for any of your follow-up visits. However, you will always have the option of an individual appointment with your provider.
Is it an educational seminar or a support group?
No. Many people think the SMA is a seminar because of the wealth of information they obtain and the length of time scheduled. The SMA is not a seminar, health education class, support group, behavioral medicine program, or psychiatry group. Rather, it is an enhanced office visit with the health care provider. The same medical care, lab results review, medication review, and time for questions that you would experience in a traditional office visit takes place here.
What topics are covered in the Cancer Survivorship SMA?
Each Cancer Survivorship SMA is limited to 10 women who have had any type of cancer and have completed treatment. In this 90-minute group visit, nurse practitioner Amy Potter Pilotte and I, along with our health care specialist team, help you to:
- Improve your understanding of disease and treatment.
- Address treatment changes and long-term side effects.
- Discuss the common challenges survivors face, such as fatigue, anxiety, body image, nutrition, chronic pain, and sexual concerns.
- Comply with follow-up screenings.
- Adopt healthy behaviors to improve your quality of life.
- Identify strategies to reduce your risk of cancer recurrence.
What about my privacy?
All participants in the SMA sign a privacy and confidentiality agreement. At first, some patients may feel hesitant to share their questions or speak in the group. But they soon begin to enjoy the social interaction and share information that is helpful to other patients. Private discussions and examinations are available and encouraged in the SMA.
Will my insurance pay for an SMA?
In terms of billing, the SMA appointment is the same as a regular office visit. Although the appointments are 90 minutes rather than the usual 15 to 30 minutes, there is no charge for the extra time. It is billed as a typical office follow-up visit and your usual co-pay will apply.
If you’d like to talk with us about our SMA for cancer survivors, please contact us at 401-793-7017 or visit our website to learn more.