Cancer: how to inform the patient and his family

Knowing how to communicate effectively with the patient and his environment about the usual psychological and social consequences of such a diagnosis, the prognosis and treatment is vital for both the patient and the doctor. From the hand of Laura Calpe, we review some of the keys onhow professionals can give this kind of news and how to improve communication between the doctor and families .

Giving bad news is never easy. However, according to the Code of Ethics and Deontology “patients have the right to receive information about their disease and the doctor will strive to give it delicately and in a way that he can understand. Respect the patient’s decision not to be informed and then communicate the appropriate points to the family member or relative who has designated for this purpose.

«According to the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology, cancer will add 277,394 new cases this year. 277,394 situations in which a patient and his doctor will face a serious situation that will require, at the communicative level, all the professional’s delicacy, ”says Laura Calpe.

Of the deadly diseases, cancer is among those that most impact on people when communicating, so, according to Calpe, for medical-patient communication to work, transparency, the use of simple language and trust are essential.

Keys to inform the patient and his family of a cancer:

  1. Trust The dialogue must be established in a position that arouses confidence in the recipient. To achieve fluid communication, trust towards the doctor is key. Not only does it improve patient satisfaction and reduce their anxiety, it also facilitates understanding of the diagnosis and favors greater adherence to treatment. In short, it is essential to establish an emotional connection between the protagonists of healthcare communication to build a relationship of trust and cordiality.

The relationship of trust is also based on setting limits. The doctor, unintentionally, can hurt a patient’s sensitivity by giving him more information than desired, if the patient has not previously established clear limits for this communication.

  1. Bidirectionality. Communication is a process in which a sender and a receiver intervene, so it is not only that the doctor gives or clarifies a diagnosis, a service or a treatment, but that he is able to hear what the needs are, doubts and questions that these generate in patients and their families.
  2. Simple and adapted language. Before a news of these characteristics, the patient goes through a series of phases so that sensitive and interesting information must be transmitted clearly to be understood. Often, medical jargon can accuse an excess of specialized words.

Specifically, it is estimated that only in the medical career, up to 50,000 technicalities are learned. The professional or center must be able to decode and make the message intelligible to the citizen, regardless of the studies or knowledge they have. «If it is not understood, the purpose of the communication is neither fulfilled nor complete. It is crucial that professionals adapt language and terminology to the level of their interlocutor when they give such news, ”recalls Calpe.

  1. Know the patient. It is the professional’s responsibility to think about the final recipient of the communication: what level of knowledge he possesses, how he expresses himself and what fears or objections he needs to tear down, and that all these aspects are reflected in the whole communication “this is especially important in a moment in which bad news is given and the patient’s brain is in shock and full of fears, ”says Calpe.
  2. Prudence and empathy. Regardless of the information the patient needs, the relationship established with the healthcare professionals who will treat him during cancer will be very important.

That is why developing empathy with the patient is key. “It is vital to know well who you are addressing, what patient you have in front of you, talk about the treatments that matter to the patient, appeal to how he feels, show that you care and understand him” explains Calpe, who accumulates more than 10 years of experience in the medical sector, researching and developing texts that communicate effectively.

A study conducted in 2019, which evaluated the Oncology Patient’s Experience in private health, highlighted that patients place empathy and professionalism on the same level of importance.

Why is good doctor-patient communication important?

In general, information is key to face and know the disease. For the expert, good doctor-patient communication about cancer, treatments and evolution is very important because:

➔ Resolution of doubts and quality information reduce anxiety levels and patient uncertainty.

➔ It allows the patient to participate actively in making decisions regarding their treatments, tests … and helps them feel that they have some control over the disease.

➔ Banish taboos, facilitating emotional relief and family support.

There are different psychological stages that a patient diagnosed with cancer goes through: shock, denial, anger, sadness, fear and, finally, acceptance.

These stages do not form a linear and forward path, but sometimes a stage can be extended further, and on other occasions, depending on the disease process go backwards. For this reason, effective doctor-patient communication will be key to address this disease.

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