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A Harvard Doctor’s Cancer Survivors Startup: Julie Sivler MD

Oncology Rehab Partners is looking to better cancer survivors quality of life.

Dr. Julie Silver is pretty damn busy these days. She's an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and  the Chief Editor of Books at Harvard Health Publications, the consumer health branch of Harvard Medical School, and the director of the Harvard CME course  "Publishing Books, Memoirs and Other Creative Nonfiction", Julie has founded and runs a medical startup focused on accrediting hospitals through Oncology Rehab Partners.

She's also an author here on Freelance MD of course. Read all of Julie Silver's posts here.

From the Bloomburg article

Six years ago the Institute of Medicine called for giving every survivor a “care plan” to manage the lasting consequences of treatment, and this year the American College of Surgeons made such post-treatment attention to quality of life a requirement for its 1,500 accredited hospitals. Dr. Julie Silver, a Harvard Medical School rehab physician who survived breast cancer herself, is one of the pioneers trying to make rehabilitation a standard part of cancer care.

Silver co-founded Oncology Rehab Partners in 2009 to help hospitals and rehab centers tailor rehab programs to cancer patients. “There’s rehab for everything,” she says, “except cancer.” Silver and her business partner Diane Stokes developed a program to certify cancer rehab that has been adopted by dozens of institutions, including Johns Hopkins Hospital, over the past two years. The Survivorship Training and Rehab program, or STAR, offers online training to oncologists, primary care doctors, nurses, therapists and other practitioners, as well as nonmedical staff such as social workers and administrators. In October, several hospitals and rehab clinics in Rhode Island jointly got certified in the STAR program in an effort to make its certified rehab available across the state.

The STAR program’s goal is to teach doctors how rehab can help cancer patients and to teach rehab professionals about the unique needs of cancer survivors. After training, Oncology Rehab Partners helps health care providers create systems for referring, evaluating and rehabilitating cancer survivors.

Today, many doctors send cancer patients to fitness classes, yoga or massage therapists to soothe the effects of treatment. Unlike rehab, such nonmedical care isn’t generally covered by insurance. Silver says many survivors need more customized help, including physical, occupational and speech therapy, to regain their abilities and transition back into work and family life.

For example, many survivors of head and neck cancers stop driving because they have difficulty turning their heads. Physical therapy can improve their neck motion, allowing them to drive again and, often, to go back to work. Others may have trouble speaking or swallowing that speech therapy can relieve. Oncologists may not recognize their needs, however. “People are told this is your new normal, accept this,” Silver says, “when in fact that may not be their new normal if they had appropriate rehabilitation services.”

Institutions pay $10,000 to $44,000 for certification. (Individuals, such as solo physical therapists, can also get certified for $2,000.) Over time, Oncology Rehab Partners will measure the programs’ success by looking at patient satisfaction and improvements as part of a recertification process that will cost $5,000 to $10,000. The seven-employee company, based in Northborough, Mass., expects revenue of more than $2 million in 2012, up from about $500,000 this year, says Stokes.

Physical therapist Sherry Spencer Brown was part of a 15-person team that brought the STAR program to Hawthorn Medical Associates, a 75-doctor practice in North Dartmouth, Mass. The training helped Brown learn more about the consequences of chemo and radiation, while her colleagues in Hawthorn’s cancer center learned how rehab could help survivors recover after treatment. “We all came from a different perspective and different clinical strengths and got to learn about other areas that we’re not as well-versed in,” says Brown.

Silver developed the STAR program after her own breast cancer treatment in 2003 left her too weak to go back to work. She got her strength back over two years, drawing on her own expertise as a rehab physician and working with a personal trainer. The experience awakened her to the problem many cancer survivors face: After debilitating treatment, they have no road back to anything like the life they knew before being diagnosed.

Reader Comments (2)

my wife was diagnosed October 2009 stage 2 she has had a mastectomy with tram flap reconstruction she comes home tomorrow and we have to see the oncologist about the options for chemo. Take care and god bless. WOMEN WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH THIS ARE TRUE HEROS!

Feb 19 | Unregistered CommenterFerdinand

I feel for you Ferdinand. I have an aunt who died of the same illness two years ago. I know how it feels when a loved one is battling that kind of battle. Just keep the faith and continue believing that your wife will be healed.

Feb 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlyscha

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