UIndy professor develops tool to screen cancer survivors for the need for occupational therapy

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Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy at the University of Indianapolis Katie Polo has developed a tool that will screen cancer survivors to determine their need for occupational therapy, called the Screen of Cancer Survivorship-Occupational Therapy Services. According to UIndy 360, Polo found that only 29% of cancer survivors received occupational therapy services despite there being a greater need for it. Polo said that one of the goals with SOCS-OTS is to empower cancer survivors and help them better understand issues they may be having.

“What gave us this idea was in practice, at Cancer Support Community, one of our community partners at UIndy, a lot of the clients in there had indicated issues with performing some of their daily activities, which is often an indicator for the need for OT services, but none of them had actively received OT services before,” Polo said. “In the literature, we did notice that OT services are underutilized in cancer care, but there’s a huge need for it, and so I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why is that?’”

Polo said that the process of developing SOCS-OTS took three years and was done by herself as well as her occupational therapy doctorate students. She said that they researched what issues cancer patients struggle with that occupational therapy would help with, and started developing a list of items that would make up the screening tool. Polo said that with her second group of OTD students, she used the Delphi process to sort through which criteria were most important to include on the tool. This means she and her students looked at the list that they had compiled and continuously asked current cancer patients to verify if the things they were finding were consistent with 70% of patients. 

“We did that for four different rounds of the Delphi process until we finally whittled down the items to 20 items for the final rendition of the screening tool,” Polo said. 

According to Polo, if a patient says they are having trouble with three of the criteria on the screening test, their results indicate a need for occupational therapy services. Some of the questions on the test are about sleep, work, leisure, social participation, health management and daily living activities according to UIndy 360. Polo said that these are areas in which she found many cancer patients struggled with and that can be helped through occupational therapy. 

Polo said the tool will be used by oncologists, nurses, nurse navigators and others on the front lines of oncology care. She said it will be utilized by them with the client and then reviewed by referral sources.

According to Polo, SOCS-OTS is the first of its kind because cancer care is a new field in occupational therapy. She said that she hopes the tool will allow clients with cancer to recognize the need for and benefit of occupational therapy. 

“My biggest hope and aspiration is this screening tool will allow for clients with cancer that need OT services to recognize that need and to receive services,” Polo said. “Because there is an astounding amount of literature that says that our services are underutilized, but very, very needed.”

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