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Texas Oncology's Sydney Townsend Spotlights Mental Health in Cancer Care Journey


Sydney Townsend, executive director of digital health at Texas Oncology, explains how cancer diagnosis and treatment can impact a patient’s mental well-being and how she assesses a patient’s overall cancer care experience.

Emotional and psychosocial health are important to consider for patients undergoing cancer treatment, said Sydney Townsend, executive director of digital health at Texas Oncology.


What do you consider when assessing a patient's overall cancer care experience?

We have to look at a lot of factors when assessing a patient's overall cancer care experience. Cancer patients are so high touch—they have a lot of visits—so we need to look at their entire journey from the beginning, from when they're first referred to the practice, through their diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. We look at all of those factors when we consider a patient's overall care experience. We also look at things like what is their experience when they're inside the clinic? What's the atmosphere in the clinic? What's their connection like with their providers? But, also, what's their experience like when they're outside of the clinic? Our patients are long-term patients, and the time that they have with us in clinic is very small compared to the amount of time when they're outside of the clinic, so we look at those factors as well.

Then, additionally, we look at things like social determinants of health. What is the patient's environment like at home [and] in their community? What support do they have or need as part of their experience? We consider that. Finally, we look at, if they have caregivers that are engaged in their care, how are they engaged? Can we do better to get them engaged or help them support the patient? Because cancer is a hard, hard journey, and we want to make sure that our patients have all the support that they need, both from the clinic and from their community.

How do you address the emotional and psychological needs of patients with cancer?

We have to look at a patient's emotional and psychological needs as they go through their cancer journey. This is such a tough diagnosis and journey. You know, this isn't the flu that you're over in a few days or a week. This is life threatening for most patients, so emotional and psychosocial health is huge. We do a lot to address those needs. First and foremost, we've got social work available to look at those needs; we do screenings for depression to understand how our patients are feeling.

Then we also recently have started offering counseling within Texas Oncology with licensed counselors that really specialize in oncology care and that oncology experience because, again, it's a hard one. We even have a counselor who's specifically certified in intimacy in cancer care, because that's a big part of the change in a cancer patient's life, so we look at that. And then we also offer support groups, both through Texas Oncology and through the Texas Oncology Foundation. Many of these resources are available virtually, so we know that that really helps our patients have better access. Maybe they just don't feel like coming to the clinic today to talk about their emotional needs, but we can offer those services virtually, essentially in their home, and that's a big component.

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