For many patients, the impact of cancer can extend far beyond their personal journey with the illness. It’s also a harsh reality often felt by the family members or friends who take on the role of informal caregiver. With about 1.6 million new cancer cases expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year, caregivers play a significant part in the cancer healthcare system. This fact underscores why clinicians need to have a good relationship with the caregivers of cancer patients.
The most recent Cancer Experience Survey results, based on the responses of more than 2,000 patients and caregivers across the U.S. and sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®, provide us with helpful insights about what’s important to caregivers. The results also help us understand how clinicians can work better to deliver the best care possible.
Speak My Language
There is a lot of complex terminology in cancer care treatment, particularly when combined with the emotional fog of a recent cancer diagnosis. In order to make the best decisions, caregivers and patients must understand what’s happening during a treatment course. The most recent Cancer Experience Survey found that fewer than half of caregivers understand important medical terms, such as genomic testing, immunotherapy, and integrative treatment. Clinicians should make sure to take the time to answer questions, and even request verbal confirmation, when explaining cancer treatment and care.
While seemingly an optimistic goal in an overcrowded, complex system, coordinated care is the key to providing the best care possible for patients with cancer. In the most recent Cancer Experience Survey, caregivers reported a 37% gap in expectation versus experience when it comes to having a single individual coordinating care. The survey also showed that there was a 23% gap when it comes to having an integrated care team. This response from caregivers leaves much room for improvement in coordinated care.
Both caregivers and patients need to feel comfortable and confident with the prognosis and treatment recommended. The most recent Cancer Experience Survey showed that 40% of patients seek a second opinion, with 60% of them doing so merely to confirm the first opinion. By recommending a second opinion (if appropriate), clinicians can demonstrate confidence in their prognosis and illustrate that the patient is being prioritized. That choice can make patients and caregivers feel more empowered, leading to informed decision-making and buy-in with a recommended treatment course.
With something as scary as cancer, communicating with caregivers and patients is crucial. According to the most recent Cancer Experience Survey, caregivers experienced a 20% gap with regard to expectations versus experience when it comes to involving the patient and caregivers fully and the care team’s willingness to answer questions. This indicates a greater need for personal, real-time communication with the medical team. By working with staff to implement timely updates throughout a treatment course, clinicians help build a relationship with caregivers while simultaneously providing higher-quality, more personalized cancer care.
While the most recent Cancer Experience Survey arms clinicians with helpful insights to improve relationships with cancer patients and caregivers, healthcare providers must also remain sensitive to each individual experience. By providing caregivers with resources and tools to support them in this role, clinicians become a partner in this important yet frightening time. By enhancing relationships with caregivers, it can ultimately improve the course of treatment as well as the patient’s experience.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Press release: National cancer experience survey gives voice to patients and caregivers. Available at: http://www.cancercenter.com/press-center/press-releases/ctca/2015/09/National-Cancer-Experience-Survey/.
National Cancer Institute. Family Caregivers in Cancer. Roles and Challenges—for health professionals. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/coping/family-friends/family-caregivers-hp-pdq.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Community and support: Caregivers. Available at: http://www.cancercenter.com/community/caregivers/tab/caregiver-support-services/.