Cancer, the ‘C’ word, is not an easy diagnosis to hear. It’s easy to understand that anyone facing this type of diagnosis may feel overwhelmed; cancer is after all, a complex condition and there are many considerations and choices to be made. That’s where being able to speak to someone knowledgeable about the diagnosis, treatment options and what’s available to them under the terms of their private healthcare scheme, can be just the lifeline that’s needed.
We spoke to one of our Nurse Case Managers, Julia Poxon, to see how this specialist team at AXA Health work with members to provide the right level of support, guidance and care they need at a crucial time…
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be life altering for many. How are you able to support members throughout their cancer journey?
“We’re able to support members from the point of diagnosis with a direct number to our team of nurses, alongside a case nurse ensuring they can easily access support and guidance when it’s needed.
We start by helping the member understand the benefits available to them as part of their private healthcare scheme, supporting our conversation with a letter detailing everything we’ve discussed ensuring they have all the information they need to hand. Calls are made to the member at key points during their treatment journey such as after their discharge from surgery, first cycle of chemotherapy, mid cycles, and end of treatment – milestones that we know are particularly significant, where there could be questions or simply a need to talk. We’re here to alleviate any stress that we can for the member. We look holistically at everything, asking questions such as; “do they have support?” and “do they have children that will be impacted by their condition and treatment?” We look to support them in any way possible. We’re here for the member and their family.
And at appropriate points we can offer other avenues of support too, whether that’s access to an app to support periods of extreme fatigue, or health coaching to offer expert advice on nutrition, activity and health (when provided as part of your company’s private medical benefits). And if they have questions about their medication our 24-hour Health at Hand team’s pharmacists* can provide the expert help they need. Plus, we’ll signpost to relevant supporting charities that do a great job of providing additional information beyond simply that of their medical journey.
Ultimately, we’re always guided by the needs of the member as to the level of contact they want, whether very little contact, or a more guided approach.”
What’s the most significant part case management plays in supporting a member’s cancer journey?
“Providing a holistic approach to their cancer journey, ensuring they’re fully supported, removing as much of the worry that we can. Many members comment that we're their lifeline, that they couldn’t have gone through it without our support. Our conversations are not always about their cancer treatment, but what’s also happening in their day-to-day lives - building a trusted relationship and a friendship. A cancer patients’ journey can mean we are there to support for several years.”
What do you find are the main concerns for a member and their family during their cancer journey – what re the most common themes/worries and how can you alleviate them?
“Concerns vary from member to member. For some it’s financial and work concerns, for others more physical, such as having a breast removed, losing their hair and their image. It could be that they’re not able to talk to their loved ones about how they are feeling, or they simply have a need to maintain normality at home, especially if they have children.
For many we help alleviate some of these concerns just by listening and being available. If appropriate we can signpost to additional support and check to see what’s available as part of their company private medical scheme to support them.”
How can organisations/company’s support an employee facing a cancer diagnosis.
There are several things that companies may need to be aware of that can support an employee dealing with cancer.
- Support them if they have financial concerns and any issues around job security.
- Stay in contact during periods when they are off work and be open to just listen.
- No two people are the same. Even if you have two employees with the same diagnosis their experience and needs will be different from one another.
- Supporting employees so they can remain at work – or return when they are ready – has benefits for all concerned. Cancer is a protected characteristic by the Equality Act 2010 and a quality occupational health provision will support both your business and your people, extending a supportive approach that can help reduce anxiety for the member and provide the confidence to deal with cancer. Examples of AXA Health’s Occupational Health measures of guidance from a cross section of cases from the past year include:
- likely duration of absence
- likely degree of disability on return-to-work
- likely duration of any such disability
- adaptations needed in the workplace to overcome the functional effects of disability
- impact of disability on performance and/or attendance
- impact of disability on health and safety
- suggestions around joint return to work planning
- consideration of alternative employment within your organisation.
Cancer is a very specialised and complex area of medicine. How do you stay on top of medical advancements and changes in this area of medicine?
“We attend a variety of training sessions throughout the year and have a team that supports with new medical guidance, for example from NICE. We also have a medical panel available to support us when needed. Plus, our own data taken from claims provides information that helps us recognise new trends in care and treatment. It can include clinical trial data and evidence supported by consultants, informing us about changes and advancements in cancer care.
We also ensure, individually, that our nurse registration is maintained.
Overall, our cancer care team is made up of a mix of clinically trained nurses, including those with on-the-ward oncology experience, and skilled case managers."
What does it mean for you being a nurse case manager at AXA Health?
“For me it’s making a difference to someone’s experience of their cancer treatment, knowing that we have helped them with how they are feeling and coping. We may not meet them face to face, but you get to know the members you care for and can often gauge how they are feeling by the tone in their voice on a call. We build a bond that often continues for some time after all the treatment has ended. Helping the member get back to normality after a short or long treatment journey is wonderful.”
About Julia Poxon
Julia has been a senior nurse case manager and now a clinical team manager within the private health sector for over 16 years. She originally trained in Oxford and has a background of theatre recovery and neonatal intensive care.