When doctors think about influencing the experience of our patients, most of us are focused on the tasks at hand: Getting the right diagnosis and managing the disease. Managing the disease itself can be particularly arduous in the case of advanced cancer.
Most busy oncology practices struggle to keep up with managing a large number of patients and everything that patient care entails. There is barely time to concentrate on the emotional side of cancer care. However, for our patients, in addition to understanding the details of their particular cancer diagnosis, symptoms, treatment choices, and side effects, emotional support is exactly what is needed to become an educated and empowered patient within the complex world of modern oncologic care.
The full spectrum of patient support
Recently, I was asked to become the host of a new video series for CURE magazine, a publication solely devoted to cancer patients and their caregivers. The videos on the site, feature interviews and discussions with highly respected expert physicians, oncology nurses, and also patients, themselves. I am in the enviable position of gaining first-hand knowledge from people who have been through every stage of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, this online resource will provide a unique opportunity for patients to hear opinions from the doctors who educate the rest of the medical community about the latest advances in cancer research and treatment. Most patients will never otherwise have access to a world expert.
Furthermore, through CURE Connections, patients have the chance to hear first-hand accounts from other patients who were treated by these experts. This is groundbreaking education for patients, caregivers, and other doctors.
After evaluating the online education already available for patients with cancer and their families, the CURE Connections team has given considerable thought to how we can help change the way cancer care is delivered. I began thinking about the full spectrum of information needed to make the patient experience as smooth as possible. To me, the clear answer was to provide accurate, up-to-date, and patient-friendly information on specific types of cancer while at the same time including the more personal side of cancer care. Even as physicians, we are not always trained to focus on the emotional aspects.
7 essential elements of emotional support in cancer care
We’ve covered topics ranging from side effects of specific treatments to breaking the news for your family to maintaining sound nutrition throughout your illness. It’s my goal to give patients a reliable place where they can have their questions answered 24/7, to break down the myths of modern cancer care based on the experiences of medical experts and patients, and to focus on the emotional experience of cancer.
The 7 “E’s” Explained
- Educate: A comprehensive education for patients includes not only information about their disease and all aspects of their care, but also includes lessons learned through the experiences of other patients who have gone through a similar journey.
- Enable: Enabling patients means providing them with the information that they need to make a plan to move forward in their journey and instill confidence about the decisions that they make.
- Empower: Patient empowerment means giving patients the tools to become their own advocates, and providing the knowledge to ask for what they need from their doctors, caregivers, friends, and family.
- Empathize: Empathizing with the patient and their caregivers is a key component of support, so they don’t feel alone in dealing with what, at times, feels insurmountable.
- Energize: This means energizing the patient to seek the best possible care, to ask the right questions of their doctors, and maybe to look for a second or even a third opinion without being intimidated. At times, we may need to energize a patient to try a new treatment if it’s warranted, to make decisions about no longer receiving treatment, or to start treatment again after their cancer returns.
- Evolve: Cancer is a dynamic process. There are good days and bad days. Possibly you will struggle with the anxiety of the unknown, or your cancer progressing. Maybe you have to come to terms with the end of your life. Each patient needs to evolve in their understanding and acceptance of their disease, as do their family, friends, and caregivers.
- Emerge: With the right support, the hope is that each patient may emerge from his or her own journey from cancer patient to cancer survivor in better connection, both physically and emotionally.
Being a cancer patient can be confusing and overwhelming. Aside from the information that I give to my own patients who have cancer, it’s important to be able to recommend reliable sources of information that can reinforce what I tell them, and also to focus on the emotional support that I cannot always provide. Often patients want to develop a further understanding on their own, beyond what we have time to talk about during office visits. It’s my hope that focusing on the 7 “E’s” of emotional support for patients with cancer will change the paradigm, and ultimately result in better care all around.