Dorothy Frost, MedHealth, ,Joanne Graves, AIA Australia, Carly Van Den Akker, Swiss Re, Leigh Watson, Swiss Re.

A program to help cancer patients transition from cancer treatment back to wellness was the subject of a compelling panel session at Investment Magazine’s Group Insurance Summit.

Delegates heard that more people are surviving cancer than ever before, with survival rates climbing from 48 per cent to 68 per cent in the last five years.

However, many survivors fail to reach their full potential due to the distressing side-effects of medical treatment such as fatigue, chemo fog, sleeplessness and memory loss. These symptoms make returning to health difficult and going back to work even harder.

This session explored the success of the Restore CaRe Positivum program, based on the combined experience of IPAR, Swiss Re, AIA Australia and Monash University.

The evidence-based trial program identifies symptoms that might stop people returning to health and work and helps find solutions, according to Carly Van den Akker, head of life & health solutions, Swiss Re Life and Health ANZ.

“We provide strategies and expert advice to measure and then minimise these symptoms to support these members back to wellness and eventually to work,” she said during the discussion.

Van den Akker pointed to fresh data from the government statistician which revealed that 140,000 people receive a new cancer diagnosis every year.

Remarkably, a solid 40 per cent of these people are of work age.

“So, these development in treatment and oncology have led to an increase in survivability which, in turn, provides the industry with a huge opportunity to help survivors access programs like Restore CaRe Positivum.”

She told conference-goers the results look promising for the 75 people who completed the six month program, particularly with regards to pain management, coping skills, concentration and dealing with the debilitating fear the cancer will reoccur.

Since remaining in the workforce was a priority for most program participants, gaining the confidence of their employer is a key driver for recovery underscoring the importance of arming employers with more tools and more support, according to Joanne Graves, national rehabilitation manager at AIA Australia.

As Graves sees it, returning to “good work” can be “good medicine” if offered at the right time.

“Many customers see returning to work as a personal goal, and a major milestone,” she said, adding that their recovery was to do with getting back to their life, having structure, earning an income and enjoying the support of their workmates.”

Graves conceded that some cancer patients do not have the option of being rehired by their former employer once they have regained their health.

At this point in the discussion, Dorothy Frost, general manager, research and innovation at MedHealth told the panel that a number of employers find it difficult to strike a balance between supporting people and pushing them to work hard.

“At the same time, they have a job to do and a business to run,” she concluded, adding there is a gap between how employers handle mental health issues and what people in recovery need.

The session was moderated by Leigh Watson, head of life and health client markets, Australia & NZ, Swiss Re.

 

Elizabeth Fry has been a financial journalist for more than 25 years and has written for a number of publications, including CFO, The Financial Times and The Australian Financial Review.
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