Patient liaison is the focus of a new medical centre

"I was completely stunned. Nearly everything he was saying to me was going right over the top of my head. I could see his lips moving but I could not process or absorb his words"- a patient on hearing her doctor diagnose breast cancer.

Emotional distress, anxiety and shock go hand in hand with a health crisis - particularly a cancer diagnosis. Psychological intervention can be as necessary as other medical procedures.

Understanding health from both a medical and psychological perspective is the focus of the University of Sydney's new Centre for Medical Psychology and Evidence-based Decision-making (CeMPED).

"There's an increasing recognition of the need for multidisciplinary input," said Professor Phyllis Butow, Chair of Psychology and director of the Medical Psychology Research Unit.

CeMPED will "bring together people who are interested in medicine, in psychology and in prevention and screening," she said. .

The co-directors of CeMPED are Professor Butow (Psychology), Professor Martin Tattersall (Medicine) and Associate Professor Alexandra Barratt (Public Health).The centre grew out of two established research groups within the University, the Medical Psychology Research Unit and the Sydney Health Decision Group.A current collaboration is an examination of how evidence is communicated to patients. "Most medical decisions are based on a whole range of studies. But for people to make real choices about their health care, they need to understand that evidence and how to weigh it up," Professor Butow explained.

"To have this cross-faculty centre is quite novel and innovative. We have psychologists, nurses, doctors, public health professionals - a whole range of people. We also have a lot of students doing projects with us. We have a close collaboration with the Sydney Cancer Centre and our physical proximity to the hospital is a great strength.

"There is a growing appreciation that that's the way you get really interesting, innovative work - when you bring in ideas from different perspectives."

The centre was launched at the Sydney Cancer Conference 2008.

By Elizabeth Heath

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