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Remember the Basics of “Patient-Centered” Care

“Patient-centered” has become a buzzword in healthcare in the past few years. Doctors and nurses talk about “patient-centered” care at conferences. Research projects— and clinical trials— strive to include a patient perspective in their development. Healthcare organizations tout their “patient-centered” approach to care. All of these are positive developments.

Small interactions matter

But, in my experience, when patients and caregivers are in the trenches of getting treated for cancer, it is the daily interactions that matter. Are they required to go to the lab in Building A for bloodwork, wait a long time, and then rush to Building B (without time for lunch) for a transfusion or chemotherapy? And then are they told that a nurse at the lab should have signed the paperwork they brought over? And then are they told they must return to Building A to get the signature before they can proceed with the treatment at Building B?

I wish it weren’t so, but I melted down more than once trying to follow the bureaucratic steps as I was told to. This is not so easy when you or your spouse has cancer. I don’t think healthcare organizations realize how exhausting this can be to cancer patients and caregivers.

How about making small thing easier?

During the course of my first husband’s bladder cancer treatment, we switched from one facility to another. The new facility had valet parking for cancer patients and families. This was fantastic. It was especially fantastic given that we were in a busy city (San Francisco) with limited and expensive parking. They offered this service for free.

Sometimes receptionists and nurses did not seem to distinguish whether we were there for cancer or for a hangnail. Every patient and caregiver should be treated kindly and with respect, but we so appreciated the employees who were kind and gentle and who took the time to focus on us for a few minutes. They understood how serious life (and our situation) felt to us. Yet they were appropriately cheerful and helpful. This went a long way towards giving us a better experience at a given appointment.

I wish healthcare facilities would recognize kindness as “patient-centered”

The small kindness, the small details, the gentle word, the free parking, the help with paperwork. All of these went far in giving us peace in difficult moments. I so appreciate that the healthcare system overall is thinking about “patient-centered” approaches to care and research. But sometimes the most basic “patient-centered” approach involves being nice or doing a little extra to ease the load for the patient and caregiver.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.