THE PSYCHO-ONCOLOGY ONLINE PROJECT

Psycho-oncology online is an innovative research project in its field, which facilitates the access to psychological treatment and emotional support in cancer survivors using the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The use of ICT improves the effectiveness of such treatment, the quality of life, the emotional well-being and the evolution of the disease in patients.

Project Justification

About 40% of cancer patients suffer from high emotional distress that could be reduced with access to quality psycho-oncological treatments.

It is estimated that only 5% to 10% of cancer patients who need it receive quality psychological treatment by a qualified professional. Despite having overcome a cancer, those affected have high emotional distress in terms of anxiety, stress or depression that occurs during the first months after diagnosis and oncological treatment, and even years later.

This distress is associated with poorer quality of life, less adherence to oncological treatments and healthy life patterns, and worse self-care. The access to a psychological treatment can improve patient’s psychological adjustment and the evolution of their illness. However, it is important to highlight that this access is far from being universal, especially in Spain.

The need for the project

Psychological treatment helps patients to build healthy experiences from their disease.

The way by which the experience of illness is built clearly compromises the impact that cancer has on patient’s life. Generating positive experiences in such a complex moment has an enormous added value on patients, their families, and in the health system itself. Experiences like emotional distress, pain, or fragility are commonly associated to cancer, but also experiences like well-being, personal growth, pride, resistance, proximity, or gratitude can emerge from the illness experience.

Psychological treatments work in cancer, especially with people experiencing emotional distress.

Treating emotional distress in cancer to transform experiences into illness is largely achieved by providing access to quality psychological treatments. Psychological interventions on emotional distress and quality of life in cancer patients have positive effects in: reducing emotional distress, anxiety, depression and improving quality of life. Psycho-oncological intervention has proven to be more effective among those patients suffering from high levels of emotional distress.

How to make it easier for cancer patients the access to psychological therapy?

The face-to-face nature of psychotherapies becomes a limitation to its accessibility. For this reason, people with restrictions on time, work, mobility, location or economy cannot benefit. This project shows how the access to online psychological treatments solves these difficulties. Thanks to Internet, psycho-social treatments become a cheaper and more accessible option than face-to-face therapies, but being equally effective.

Impact

Application: In 3 years, we would like to triple the number of cancer patients having access to quality psychological treatment.

Emotional status and quality of life: Initial data show that more than 70% of people receiving online psychological treatment reduce their level of emotional distress and significantly improve their quality of life.

Disease evolution: Recent findings confirm that psychological treatment has a positive effect on the disease evolution in the sense that treated patients show fewer relapses or, if these take place, they do later.

Healthier life after cancer and better adherence to treatment: Online psychological treatments should facilitate the adoption of healthy lifestyles, as well as a better adherence to health guidelines and cancer treatments. Our project should corroborate this data which have been found in several studies.

Health effectiveness-cost improvement: Online psychological treatments are expected to improve the cost-effectiveness relationship of health care in cancer, through the reduction of the return-to-work period, the lower consumption of psychotropic drugs, and the use of other health services.

Construction of a virtual community of users: The Catalan Government’s Health Department, in collaboration with us (ICO-Duran i Reynals Psycho-Oncology team), promotes the first public therapeutic online community of patients and professionals. We are the first pilot project of this type of communities at the Spanish State.

The community provides a safe and anonymous context which ensures that all users share the same health problem. It is a private social network where professionals facilitate the access to the specific disease information, as well as moderate the communication between patients. Professionals also carry out a basic emotional and psycho-social support, which reduces in a high percentage the vital impact of the disease.

In these communities, doubts are resolved, experiences are shared, and even mirror experiences. These mirror experiences are professional-mediated encounters between an expert patient and another who has doubts which can be solved by the first one.

This pilot project begins with an Online Psychosocial Support Community (CSPO) for patients with breast cancer.