One in an occasional blog series on topics from Oncology Issues, the journal of the Association of Community Cancer Centers.
by Susan van der Sommen, MHA, CMPE, FACHE, ACCC Editorial Committee Chair
When first hearing of a cancer diagnosis, I imagine a patient’s mind spinning with a cyclone-like ferocity … Am I going to die? How will I tell my family? What about all of my plans? It’s cancer … of course I am going to die … but how soon? Suddenly, life spins out of control.
Engaging patients in their care can dramatically reduce anxiety by giving back some control. Of course they can’t control the diagnosis, but they can control how they face it – on their terms, with their beliefs, wishes, and desires at the forefront of every decision.
In a recent Oncology Issues article, “Talk to Me: Improve Patient Engagement; Improve Your Cancer Program,” author Chad Schaeffer, MS, FACHE, lays the foundation for developing strategies to connect patients and the decision-making process relating to their care. Improved patient engagement can alleviate some of patients’ burden in feeling as if they are hapless victims of heinous misfortune and allow them to regain some semblance of control over their future. Schaeffer is executive director at the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center at Cabell Huntington Hospital, Huntington, WV.
Defining patient engagement in simple, broad terms as “the ongoing and mutually beneficial interaction between patient and providers,” he notes that putting the patients’ needs and aspirations first will improve engagement and, ultimately, satisfaction for all.
What are the goals?
Patients’ treatment goals vary and are individualistic. Some desire to extend life at any cost; others prefer quality over quantity. Many want as little disruption to their daily lives as possible. As Schaeffer points out, evening and weekend hours, though not always pleasing to cancer center staff and physicians, will allow some patients and caregivers the flexibility to carry on with their routine (work, childcare, etc.) while receiving treatment and care at a time that is convenient.
Are we meeting your needs?
Cancer center physicians often struggle with the difficult conversations regarding the “end of life,” resulting, as Schaeffer points out, in decisions that may not coincide with a patient’s wishes. According to an end-of-life study at Stanford University, family members whose loved one died in an “institutional setting” reported poor symptom management, lack of physician communication and patient engagement, and a dearth of emotional support for loved ones and caregivers. Conversely, those who passed with home hospice services reported a considerably higher degree of satisfaction with regard to unmet needs and physician engagement.
Is there something you aren’t telling me?
In addition to reviewing Press Ganey and CGCAHPS surveys, the leaders at the Bassett Cancer Institute in upstate New York have instituted a process where they can – in real time – monitor patient satisfaction. Throughout the course of their treatment, patients are offered a tablet on which they answer a few questions about their care. Questions are flagged so that when a patient expresses dissatisfaction, a member of the leadership team can address the patient’s concern during his or her visit. It gives both the patient and staff an opportunity to more effectively understand what drives patient satisfaction while giving patients an active voice in their care.
Engaging patients from the outset of their diagnosis and throughout their care is critical to their satisfaction and ultimately, as Schaeffer points out, a more effective, patient-centered cancer treatment center.
Patient–centered care is a key focus of the upcoming ACCC Annual Meeting, CANCERSCAPE, March 2-4, in Washington, D.C. Learn more here.
Read the current edition of Oncology Issues here.
ACCC member Susan van der Sommen, MHA, CMPE, FACHE, is Executive Director, DSRIP, Bassett Healthcare Network. She currently serves as chair of the ACCC Editorial Committee.