Creation of UPMC’s Successful Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program Detailed

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PITTSBURGH – Cancer patients seeking relief from symptoms associated with their cancer treatment have spurred the successful creation of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program. While more than 60 percent of National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers offer integrative services within their health systems and nearly half of all cancer patients seek integrative care, there is considerable variation in implementation. 


Lanie Francis featureLanie Francis, M.D., director and founder of UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Wellness and Integrative Oncology explains the program development and patient benefits in an article published today in the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Journal of Oncology Practice.


“A successful wellness program is fully integrated within the cancer center and offered in conjunction with conventional disciplines of medical, surgical and radiation oncology,” said Francis. “Sustaining our program has been achieved through a variety of efforts, including an engaged physician referral base, an educated and certified staff, and an oncologist-driven program with diverse funding streams and measurable outcomes.”


In addition to Francis, a practicing medical oncologist, the core team includes two collaborative oncology nurses, a master’s level project manager, and an administrative assistant who work full time. The team also includes an acupuncturist, oncology massage therapist, yoga therapist, dietician and aromatherapy consultant who all work on a part-time basis.


wellness integrated onc featureThe development of the program began with what has become an annual Integrative Cancer Wellness Fair, where the cancer community is connected with local providers of integrative services. A series of educational programs for staff began with safely integrating mind-body services within traditional cancer care and progressed to development of the Nurse Ambassador Program, an ongoing integrative provider curriculum and certification program.


“Our nurse ambassadors are able to bring care directly to patients at the chair or bedside while they’re undergoing cancer treatment,” said Francis. “Our patients are given the opportunity to try aromatherapy, breathing techniques, meditation, hand and foot massage, and seated yoga, all delivered by their trusted oncology nurses.” 


Each patient referred to the program is assessed in the Wellness Suite, a dedicated peaceful and relaxing space where the assessment includes clinical and lifestyle evaluations. An evidence-based personalized care plan is created, and patient-reported outcomes are then tracked in the health system electronic medical records. 


Much of the support for the program has come from grants and foundations. But, Francis indicated that strong institutional support is a key part of the program’s success.


“UPMC provides salaries for two full-time employees, covers expenses for the Wellness Suite and helps with marketing and brand awareness,” said Francis. “These were provided at intervals as we demonstrated benchmarks of success, patient demand and sustainability through outside funding sources.”


Since the program began in 2014, more than 670 patients have enrolled in the program, and more than 40 nurses have become certified nurse ambassadors within three hospitals and four UPMC Hillman Cancer Centers in the UPMC health care system.



PHOTO INFO: (click images for high-res versions)

Credit both images: UPMC

Top: Lanie Francis, M.D.

Bottom: Nurse Ambassador Certification Class


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