VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System will open an integrative oncology clinic this summer at its University Drive campus.
Integrative oncology combines complementary practices such as yoga and acupuncture with conventional cancer care such as surgery and chemotherapy. A primary goal is to help prevent or lessen side effects from surgery and chemotherapy.
The new clinic will initially serve Veteran patients with prostate cancer, with plans to expand to more types of cancers. Funded through a national VA Whole Health grant, it will serve Veterans in person and virtually via VA Video Connect.
The clinic is the first of its kind for VA. Lisa Denk, cancer administrator, said it will serve as a model for other VA medical centers that want to open their own clinics.
“We’re that flagship site where everybody is modeling off what we’re doing,” said Denk. “Other VA medical centers are very interested and have similar ideas.”
Denk said the clinic will use VA’s Whole Health approach, which considers what matters to Veterans, as opposed to what’s the matter with them. Using whole health concepts, Veterans will create a personal health plan. They will then work with their integrative oncology clinician to make shared goals based on their reasons for wanting to be healthy. Treatments will be tailored to each Veteran’s goals and can include battlefield acupuncture, aromatherapy, music and creative arts therapy, social work and chaplaincy services, functional nutritional, mindfulness meditation, reiki, yoga, qigong, tai chi, and hypnosis.
Denk said the clinic will educate Veterans on whole health, shared goals and personal health plans. Based on each Veteran’s goals, treatments can include battlefield acupuncture, arts and recreation therapy, chaplaincy services, nutritional supplements, mindfulness and stress reduction assistance, yoga and tai chi.
“It takes a multidisciplinary team to build this,” said Denk. “We have all kinds of plans. We’re really excited.”
The clinic’s individualized therapies will help providers focus on physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to empower Veterans to take charge of their own well-being. It will also help improve Veterans’ surgical and post-therapy outcomes, prevent and minimize chemotherapy and radiation side effects, boost Veterans’ mood and morale and provide survivorship and end-of-life support.
“We’re hoping this is something that will stick and even more of our providers will get trained on resources like acupressure and even hypnosis,” said Denk.
Dr. Jocelyn Tan, who recently completed her own education in integrative oncology, will serve as the main clinic provider. In addition to Tan and Denk, clinic staff will include a nurse practitioner, whole health representative and licensed social worker.
Initially, the team will enroll 40 Veterans with prostate cancer diagnoses before expanding.
“While starting this, we want to make sure our interventions are helping them,” said Denk. “That turns this into an evidence-based project too, monitoring the interventions and the outcomes of those.”
With VAPHS providing cancer care to as many as 700 Veterans at any given time, Denk said the clinic could potentially affect hundreds of Veterans.