Leonard Berry, a marketing professor at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, has stepped up his research of cancer care to encompass those closest to the cancer patients – the caregivers. Most often, the caregivers are family members, and are not professionals at caring for patients.
His paper, “Supporting the Supporters: What Family Caregivers Need to Care for a Loved One With Cancer,” is online and will be in the January print issue of Journal of Oncology Practice. The journal is one of the two journals published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. It is widely read in the oncology community.
“It is an article that I am especially proud of because it addresses a real need to better prepare and support the family caregivers of cancer patients in their caregiving roles,” Berry said. “This is a group that is often overlooked, even though the caregiver is an extension of the medical team.”
Berry’s co-authors are Shraddha Mahesh Dalwadi, who earned her MBA from Mays and is a fourth-year medical student at Texas A&M; and Dr. Joseph O. Jacobson of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.
The researchers propose a four-part framework for supporting family caregivers:
– Assess caregivers’ needs using formal measures, just as the cancer patient’s own needs are assessed;
– Educate caregivers for their caregiving roles, most notably, with training in the low-level medical support that cancer patients require at home;
– Empower caregivers to become full-fledged members of the patient’s cancer team, all working toward common goals;
– Assist caregivers proactively in their duties, so that they retain a sense of control and self-efficacy rather than having to react to imminent medical crises without sufficient resources at their disposal.
An estimated 4.6 million people in the United States care for someone with cancer at home. Too often, these caregivers—spouses, other family members, or friends—are poorly prepared for this vital but demanding role that takes a toll on them and, by extension, the patient. Only one-third of all caregivers report being asked by a health-care provider what they need to care for the patient; even fewer are asked what they need to care for themselves. That lack of preparation can worsen the anxiety that caregivers already feel about a loved one’s health.
An at-home caregiver typically provides the patient with cancer with at least four types of assistance: daily living activities, medical care, social support and advocacy.
The psychological burden may be even greater for family caregivers than for the patient, especially as the disease advances, and greater for female than for male caregivers. Stress is particularly heavy if caregivers feel ill-prepared: a sense of low self-efficacy heightens the perceived burden, so it is important to develop self-confidence for the caregiving role.
Berry is University Distinguished Professor of Marketing, Regents Professor, and holds the M.B. Zale Chair in Retailing and Marketing Leadership in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University. He also is a Presidential Professor for Teaching Excellence.
His research has focused on service, particularly in health care, and in recent years more specifically on cancer care.
“I became interested in studying service improvement in cancer care because we are making more progress on clinical care than service care, and when cancer strikes, patients and their families need both,” Berry said. “I am able to leverage my career background as a services researcher and the past 15 years intensively studying healthcare to contribute to our thinking about trying to ease the path for cancer patients and their families.”
As a visiting scientist at Mayo Clinic in 2001-2002, he conducted an in-depth research study of healthcare service, the basis for his book, Management Lessons from Mayo Clinic (2008). He also has conducted and published field research at Gundersen Health, ThedaCare and Bellin Health, three high-performance health systems in Wisconsin. Concurrent with his faculty position in Mays Business School, Berry is a senior fellow of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement studying service improvement in cancer care for patients and their families.
Berry has written 10 books in all, including Discovering the Soul of Service; On Great Service; Marketing Services: Competing Through Quality; and Delivering Quality Service. He is the author of numerous academic articles and an invited lecturer throughout the world.