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Unsung Heroes: The Commission on Cancer Announces New Cancer Care Quality Standards

by Dr. Len September 07, 2011

Did you ever wonder if anyone is "watching the shop" at your local hospital when you go there to get diagnosed or treated for cancer? For the vast majority (70%) of cancer patients in this country, the fortunate answer is "yes."


That's the role of the American College of Surgeons' Commission on Cancer (CoC), an organization which includes the College and 47 member organizations devoted to establishing standards for quality cancer care in over 1500 hospitals throughout the United States. And accreditation is not limited to just hospitals. Even free-standing cancer programs-those that are not hospital based-can seek accreditation from the Commission.


As you might imagine, establishing and monitoring those standards is no small task. And keeping them updated to reflect the latest information on quality cancer care--along with challenging the hospitals to do more to improve quality than they do routinely--is a vital part of the mission of the Commission.


So it was no small accomplishment when the Commission announced last week that they were issuing their latest update of these standards, titled "Cancer Program Standards 2012: Ensuring Patient Centered Care." And it is no accident that in a day when the slogan "patient centered care" is showing up everywhere that this organization is making certain that cancer programs actually deliver on the promise that "patient centered care" represents.


The standards-which represent thousands of hours of volunteer and staff time to produce-are designed to assure that patients treated at accredited facilities receive quality cancer care.


Aside from describing what comprises quality cancer care, the standards have a number of requirements from defining the training and experience of professionals who provide that care to setting an expectation that care will be reviewed regularly at cancer conferences where doctors and other cancer treatment specialists review individual cases to be certain that patients are provided appropriate care.


And the requirements do have some teeth behind them: approved cancer programs must be visited every three years by a physician who carefully reviews the activities at the hospital to be certain it is in compliance with the Commission's standards. This is not an easy process, and requires the program and its staff to do a considerable amount of work to document that they are meeting the expectations of the Commission.


As I mentioned, the Commission also challenges cancer programs to do better. In the new 2012 standards, that means pressing forward with standards that emphasize the importance of engaging patients, families and other caregivers in their cancer care.


As a result, over the next several years accredited cancer programs will have to expand the services they offer to include treatment and survivorship plans, palliative care services, genetic counseling, patient navigation to help patients steer their way through the treatment process, and regularly measuring psychosocial distress.


Experts have known for several years that all of these programs help cancer patients and their caregivers confront what too frequently is a devastating illness and experience. But no matter how much the experts have emphasized the importance of these programs, many hospitals and treatment centers haven't met the challenge. Now, with the backing of the Commission's accreditation standards, cancer programs must step up to the plate and take on the task of making certain that access to these services is available to cancer patients under their care.


The American Cancer Society is proud to be an integral part of the Commission's programs, and to support the efforts of the Commission to develop, disseminate and implement these new standards.  Through our divisions nationwide, we actively provide assistance to cancer programs to help meet these standards, especially the new efforts to address the patient experience.


In addition to the Society, other highly respected cancer support and advocacy organizations worked closely with the Commission to develop the new patient-centered standards and help cancer patients, families and caregivers to become partners in their own care. These organizations included the Cancer Support Community, the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, and LIVESTRONG.


So if you or someone you love or know is diagnosed with cancer, and you are being treated at a hospital that has been accredited by the Commission on Cancer, you should be aware that the professionals and staff at that hospital have taken the steps necessary to offer assurances to you and your family that they have demonstrated they provide quality cancer care to their patients.


Sometimes it's good to know that out there somewhere are health professionals and many others who are willing to freely and extensively give their time and expertise with little fanfare to assure the rest of us through the Commission on Cancer that someone is watching out for the rest of us. The importance and impact of the Commission on Cancer cannot be overemphasized.


So a "hats off" to everyone who has worked so hard on developing these new standards, and to those who make certain that the participating institutions and facilities are doing what they need to do to meet those standards. And let's not forget the professionals and staff at the over 1500 participating hospitals who understand that monitoring and meeting those standards represents a true commitment to providing quality cancer care to so many patients, families and caregivers nationwide.





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Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP - Dr. Lichtenfeld is Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society.