MPCCC’s pilot study of a collaborative care model for cancer-related depression is feasible and could be readily implemented statewide to benefit all Victorian cancer patients, the independent study evaluation concluded.

Substantial unmet supportive care needs could be addressed with dissemination of this collaborative care model, which involves upskilling community psychologists and General Practitioners to treat cancer patients with depression.

“Cancer is a complex chronic disease that requires specialised training for health professionals,” Clinical Lead and Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Monash University, Professor David Kissane said.

“New ways of providing psycho-oncology care are needed to respond to patients’ distress, and to counter the suboptimal availability of psychological support in tertiary services,” Professor Kissane said.

Independent evaluation of MPCCC’s pilot project determined that “the model of collaborative care upskilled and inspired psychologists, helped cancer care teams and General Practitioners”.

Participating health practitioners reported “an increased understanding and empathy for cancer patient’s existential and biopsychosocial issues,” and that they “felt more confident in working with people affected by cancer beyond the life of the project.”

Group supervision sessions encouraged psychologists to learn from each other and build relationships with cancer health workers. Oncologists felt they were better able to support their patients by having referral pathways to trained community psychologists. General Practitioners found that input from referring oncologists reassured and helped patients’ acceptance of anti-depressants when needed.

The majority of participating patients experienced a clinically significant improvement to their levels of depression, with 78.6% recording a 5-point reduction on the Patient Health Questionnaire, used to measure depression, at 12 weeks post treatment, compared to their baseline assessment. This translated to quality of life improvements related to relationships, self-worth, pain and emotional wellbeing.

Further, the collaborative model of care was acceptable to patients based on measures of satisfaction with the therapy experience, development of a bond between patient and therapist and the patient’s sense that the treatment was credible.

Usefulness of the model was queried for patients who: needed more sessions than the program offered; were very ill and regularly altered session times; had non-cancer focused concerns; or had cancer-focussed concerns not covered by the program.

The pilot study was funded by the Victorian State Government under the MPCCC’s strategic research program, and involved Cabrini Brighton, Monash Medical Centre Moorabbin and Frankston Hospitals.

“We will maximise the impact of this research by progressing a plan towards its implementation across Victoria, and potentially nationally,” said Professor Melissa Southey, Research Director MPCCC.