Effective Communication: an Indispensable Tool in Keeping Up Cancer Patients’ Spirits

Effective Communication: an Indispensable Tool in Keeping Up Cancer Patients’ Spirits
The National Cancer Institute, playing heed to the fact that effective communication is an indispensable tool in boosting the morale of cancer patients, has decided to issue a special report by November 1, co-authored by a University of Rochester physician, stating that effective communication is truly essential to good cancer care and deserves more research.
To Improve Communication in Health Care, co-author Ronald M. Epstein, M.D., professor of Family Medicine, Psychiatry and Oncology at the University of Rochester, and Director of the Rochester Center to, said that if patients don’t have the ability to understand their treatment or their disease, they will not be able to make life-altering medical decisions, to cope up with the pressure of the problem, or navigate a complex health care system.

“The public is really struggling with these issues. You can have the best treatment in the world but if you don’t understand it, or have access to it, it does you no good,” Epstein said.

Earlier, traditional relationships with doctors dictated that patients followed orders and trusted the professionals to solve all problems.

But contemporary society and modern medicine turned this upside down: Access to the Internet and treatment advances have changed what used to be a deficit of information into information overload.

Therefore, both patients and physicians must have the skills to communicate so they can filter, deliberate together and manage the uncertainty that comes with cancer.

According to the NCI report, “In short, communicating clinical evidence is more than just ‘stating the facts. Communication is necessary during all phases of the cancer continuum from prevention through survival and end-of-life care”.

Epstein and co-author Richard L. Street, Jr., Ph.D., professor and head of the Department of Communications at Texas A&M University, were commissioned by the NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. Their work, titled “Patient-Centered Communication in Cancer Care: Promoting Healing and Reducing Suffering,” written in collaboration with NCI scientific staff, identifies priorities for research in cancer communication that could lead to better patient outcomes.

The report addresses how doctors typically present survival data to patients. How should a doctor relay that Treatment A might result in a 70 percent chance of surviving for five years, with a 10 percent chance of harsh side effects, while Treatment B might result in a 60 percent chance of survival with minimal side effects" What is the best way to frame information to reduce patient anxiety and yet not be overly hopeful".

“All of this can be studied empirically. Ultimately, we need to structure our health care system so that it fosters excellent communication and improves access to information, particularly among those patients who are most disadvantaged,” Epstein said.


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