If you don’t work in the world of supportive oncology (and sometimes even if you do) it can be hard to explain what exactly it is.
I’ve heard it called “wrap-around services,” “non-clinical care,” and my least favorite of the bunch: “soft services.” I cringe when I hear that soft, because even though it’s intended to draw attention to the art of oncology care, it connotes that the field doesn’t have definitive metrics for that care or that it is "less than" in comparison to other (hard and fast) clinical services.
I love Duke Cancer Center’s description of supportive oncology:
"Supportive Oncology" is cancer care that addresses all aspects of cancer and its impact on the patient, rather than just focusing on the disease itself. Thus, supportive care encompasses symptom management, psychosocial support, and interventions to optimize the patient's quality of life. Supportive care is provided to the patient, and sometimes to the family and/or caregivers, alongside the patient's regular medical or surgical treatment and is usually woven seamlessly into the patient's overall treatment plan.
The underlying goals of supportive care are to alleviate suffering associated with both the cancer itself and the treatment's side effects, and to sustain the individual's quality of life.
Supportive oncology typically consists of social work, nutrition, chaplaincy, occupational therapy, integrative care, nurse navigation, and other symptom management and quality-of-life-focused disciplines. Each of these disciplines and specialties has its own body of knowledge -- some more robust than others.
The Journal of Supportive Oncology, the Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Psycho-Oncology, and the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing are just a few of the journals that capture supportive oncology science.
When patients talk about the care they receive, they often can’t fully verbalize what it is that makes a difference; they tend to describe more how healthcare professionals make them feel during the journey. That’s very true with supportive oncology care. I’ve even heard people say of supportive care team members, “I’m not quite sure what s/he does, but patients are always better after seeing them.”
Yes, it still may be hard to bill for some supportive oncology services, but that doesn't mean they're any less important services. Or does that barrier send a clear message: We don’t really understand and know what you do, so we place less value on it? What are supportive care services like in your practice?