Cancer treatment: Bringing patients onboard

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In a new project, ex-patients will join oncology teams at six Quebec health institutions – a small revolution in health care.

Mado Desforges is a breast-cancer survivor who specializes in adult education, and lately she's added a third distinction to her profile: she's a co-researcher in an innovative research project that could benefit thousands of patients receiving cancer treatment.

“We are going to build a peer-help network by pairing patients undergoing treatment with people who have fought the same cancer, to help them better deal with this phase of their life," Desforges said of the project, PAROLE-Onco, spearheaded by the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre.

"This new patient-partner approach gives health-care professionals another way to support their patients," she said.

In 2016, 21,300 Quebecers were diagnosed with cancer, an illness that significantly impacts their personal and professional lives. These people need to quickly deal with their new reality and make decisions that are crucial to their health.  What if those who previously experienced such an ordeal, such as Desforges, could leverage their experience to help them?  

This is what is being tested by Dr. Marie-Pascale Pomey, a professor at the Université de Montréal’s School of Public Health and researcher at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, and Dr. Michèle de Guise, the director of health services and evaluation technology at the Institut national d’excellence en santé et en services sociaux.

The two health-care professionals have joined forces to mobilize patients, clinicians, managers and decision makers around their project, called Le patient accompagnateur, une ressource organisationnelle comme levier pour une expérience patient améliorée en oncologie (PAROLE-Onco).

With $1 million in funding over four years from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the projerct will begin in the coming weeks by integrating patient-partners into the health care teams of the oncology departments of the Centre hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal, the McGill University Health Centre, the CHU de Québec-Université Laval and the three Integrated University Health and Social Services Centres (IUHSSCs): Mauricie-et-du-Centre-du-Québec, Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal and Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal.

Another way of providing health care

Mado Desforges, Dr. Marie-Pascale Pomey and Dr. Michèle de Guise.

Credit: Équipe multimédia, CHUM.

This is the first research project of its kind to evaluate the effects of integrating patient-partners into health care teams, at both the clinical and organizational levels.

"This represents a paradigm shift in the medical world, which has  traditionally been centred on the physician’s expertise," said Pomey. "Through experience, patients accumulate knowledge not only about their illness and how it affects all aspects of their life, but also about how to find their way through the health-care system. And these other types of knowledge may prove essential to other people who are about to go through similar experiences."  

With this project, it's expected that patient-partners will become fully integrated into the institutions' health-care teams and intervene at key moments during a patient's course of treatment. They will facilitate communication between the patient and health-care workers. By being better informed, the patient can then take a more active role in his or her  treatment.

Ex-patients "are important allies who, by offering support, can help patients be better partners during their health-care experience and better navigate the system," said Pomey.

With the data they collect, the researchers hope to develop better practices in the treatment of cancer patients, wherever they are.  "In addition to its immediate positive results for the patients themselves, we are counting on this project to help other institutions in Quebec, Canada and around the world to implement similar projects as well,” said de Guise.

About the CRCHUM

The University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) is one of North America’s leading hospital research centres. It strives to improve adult health through a research continuum covering such disciplines as the fundamental sciences, clinical research and public health. Over 2,300 people work at the CRCHUM, including more than 500 researchers and more than 520 graduate students. @CRCHUM

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