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Rebecca Bechhold, MD

Rebecca Bechhold, MD

Medical Oncologist, Cincinnati, Ohio

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Are we failing to be as efficient as we could be in delivering care to cancer patients, particularly in follow-up after treatment?

Likely, most doctors would say they are good listeners. It is an essential skill when studying and practicing medicine. But under stress of limited time or a patient not responding to treatment—maybe our ability suffers a bit. Perhaps we are listening but also talking and not checking for understanding.

Patients continue to say they want more information, so they can make informed decisions. But repeatedly, studies tell us that the patient and the family are not hearing us, not understanding us, or both.

I hope to see many of the exciting agents presented this year become available and affordable for my patients. But when the miracle isn’t happening we have an obligation to talk it out and be candidly compassionate. We need to know when to put the pedal to the metal and when to hit the brake.

Effective communication between doctors and their team is key to giving the best care to patients, and can provide stress relief in a chaotic day.

No matter where you practice medicine, if your duties include patient care then you are going to interact with other oncologists. In some cases you may question the quality of their care. Help your peers to become better physicians by respecting them first, then relaying your concerns to them. Here are some examples of how not to do it, paired with kinder, gentler alternatives.

I recently spoke with someone who works for a hospital-based oncology clinic in another state. I am alarmed about the way the practice is structured. There the patient is never treated on the day they see the doctor. That means the patient must make at least two trips for every treatment. But I am told by others that this is standard.

Finding personal interests to discuss with your patient won’t make it all better. but it only takes a moment to find a sliver of common ground­, something to make you two humans trying to fix a problem.

No matter how much education my staff and I participate in, we will never cover every single possible adverse event that an individual may experience. And in some cases, when a patient can't explain their symptoms, we can be at a loss as to how to help them.

How do you know your patients are cancer-free? Often hard to answer and often asked with a note of fear suggesting they don't really want to know the answer.

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