It sounds simple: base all healthcare decisions on the patient. Isn’t that what everyone does? But the issue is much more complex than it would seem. Every cancer patient comes to us with a unique circumstance, disease and emotional need. As physicians we are all trained to fix things. With cancer there are some big protocols to help us do that, and in most cases the patient is able fight it and recover. But some patients have advanced disease. Some patients have other health issues that make using some of the best treatments we have unavailable. There are a lot of variables. Every patient is unique.
Turville Bay uses incredible state of the art technology and employs a practice called patient centered care. It has eight principles from respect for patient preferences, to emotional support. From physical comfort to involving caregivers and family in the process. As with so much of medicine, it takes time with the patient to understand their unique situation. When a patient comes to Turville Bay for their first consultation we discuss whether radiation therapy is the right treatment for their cancer, their life. We talk about their specific cancer, ask questions of the patient, and answer their questions. There are often long silences as the patient assimilates information and this process cannot be rushed.
One study in a recent Brookings Institute research brief points to health literacy as a barrier to care. And that regardless of education level, patients “remember as little as half of what they are told by their physicians.” It goes on to say that the challenging environment when discussing health issues might be part of the issue. That patients have less power than they are used to having. And that there may be “an underlying level of stress or fear” that inhibits assimilation of some pretty important information regarding their health.
Patient Centered Care improves health literacy. At Turville Bay we invite the patient into a sun-filled waiting room with calming views of Lake Monona. There is a healing garden that some people find relaxing. And there are puzzles that others enjoy. Our healthcare team talks with each patient, waits through those silences, answers questions, and soothes fears. We know that when we slow down the process, patients respond. We give them time to assimilate the information we are sharing with each other. In doing this, we are handing that patient back a bit of power. We believe the patient does better when we listen. Patient centered care develops relationships between physicians, our teams of healthcare professionals, and our patients. We find it improves the experience for all of us as we continue to fight cancer together.