On February 10, 2022, the American Cancer Society (ACS) began a new chapter in the fight against cancer. In partnership with health care facilities and cancer organizations around the world, the newly launched Building Expertise, Advocacy, and Capacity for Oncology Navigation (BEACON) Initiative empowers those organizations to better address the unique challenges and cultural needs of cancer patients in their respective countries. The ACS’ pioneering work in Patient Navigation is the starting point.
The goal of Patient Navigation is to remove barriers to care faced by patients in starting and completing treatment by providing better information and support to cancer patients and their caregivers at every stage of the cancer treatment journey. Years of implementation in the US and Canada have yielded a mountain of data showing how effective this approach can be. Now, the BEACON Initiative seeks to put that experience to work on a global scale.
The BEACON Initiative improves support and access to care for people living with cancer in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs). It supports health facilities and cancer organizations in LMICs to design, implement, and sustain their own oncology patient navigation programs. This is accomplished through the development of materials – called the Toolkit – and a peer-learning collaborative, both of which are provided in an online format for ease of access and adaptability.
The interest of the global cancer-care delivery community was visible at a Zoom conference hosted by the ACS on February 10, 2022, to celebrate the launch of the BEACON Initiative’s pilot phase. Over 160 people representing more than 30 health care facilities and cancer organizations in 22 countries joined the conference. “It was like watching the birth of something akin to a United Nations of Oncology Care,” says Scott Simpson, whose Fantasy Faire Relay For Life team raised significant funds to aid in the development of the pilot phase materials. “The word ‘moving’ doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling.”
The keynote address for the Zoom conference was delivered by Dr. Harold Freeman, the father of the Patient Navigation concept and a former president of the American Cancer Society. Since the 1970s, Dr. Freeman has been inspired by the image of a relay race, where individual runners carry cancer patients through the different stages of what he calls the “healthcare continuum.”
“It’s a team effort,” says Dr. Freeman. “It involves people with different skills and talents. You’re passing the patient from one navigator to the next, without dropping the baton. That’s the concept that we developed, and it’s a concept that works.”
The example of a relay race as a system for continuous care is well established within the American Cancer Society, having directly inspired one of its best-known initiatives, Relay For Life, created in 1985 by Dr. Gordy Klatt. Viewed as part of Dr. Freeman’s “health care continuum,” Relayers are among the first to carry the baton, ensuring by their fundraising efforts that the right professionals and tools are present to help patients at every subsequent stage of their journey. Now, BEACON builds on that tradition.
The pilot phase of the BEACON Initiative is now underway. Ten health care facilities and cancer organizations in eight countries — Armenia, Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and South Africa — will work with the new Toolkit over the next 15 months, testing its various resources and functions, and identifying what works and what needs further refinement. Ultimately, the lessons they learn through regular feedback and an external evaluation will be applied and BEACON will be accessible to everyone everywhere interested in developing a patient navigation program.
BEACON — Building Expertise, Advocacy, and Capacity for Oncology Navigation —is a giant leap toward the vision of a world without cancer.
MORE ON THE BEACON INITIATIVE
The comprehensive set of resources in the BEACON Initiative Toolkit are provided to participating organizations in a format that can be readily customized to better reflect local, regional, or national needs.
Kristie McComb is the Managing Director of Global Capacity Development and Patient Support at the ACS. Speaking at the February 10th conference to celebrate the launch of the BEACON Initiative’s pilot phase, she said, “The toolkit resources provide you with a helpful road map for your program’s development and growth, but the route you take is ultimately yours to define. We provide you with the practical tools and ongoing support, but you will create the program that responds to your specific setting and the unique needs of your patients.”
A web platform called the BEACON Community allows oncology specialists of all levels around the world to easily access the Toolkit resources, ask questions of one another, share lessons learned and the resources they develop for their program that could inspire and help others, and discuss ways to continually refine their approach to delivering patient navigation services. “We are broadening the practice of patient navigation beyond North America,” McComb said. “And we’re increasing the number of voices sharing their experiences improving the lives of cancer patients.”
An additional resource that ACS considers to be the “crown jewel” within the Toolkit is a suite of cancer education materials that participating organizations can adopt for use with patients in their setting to ensure newly diagnosed patients have access to accurate and easy to understand information about cancer. “At the heart of patient navigation is education and empowerment,” said McComb. “As we thought about how to equip and inspire facilities to take a more patient-centered approach to cancer care, we knew that training them on communication skills was not enough. If you lack basic resources for effective health education, your communication skills will only get you so far.”
A MESSAGE OF THANKS TO THE FAIRELANDS
“Thankfully, the amazing fundraising done by the Fantasy Faire community in 2021 enabled us to commission the development of two beautiful and effective resources – a patient and caregiver booklet and a health worker flipchart (based off of our East Africa materials) – that are going to ensure that all patients everywhere understand what is happening to them as they walk their cancer journey. While these materials cannot cure cancer, they will ease patients’ stress and help them to make the best choices for themselves and their loved ones.
We are so thrilled that we could create these materials with our partner, Hesperian Health Guides, and include them as part of the resources of the toolkit. And again, we have the Fantasy Faire community to thank for this beautiful, needed addition!”
Kristie McComb, Managing Director of Global Capacity Development and Patient Support at the ACS.