Dr Denalee O'Malley Highlights Gaps in Cancer Treatment Communication

Assessing a patient’s understanding of his or her own illness is important as cancer treatments become more and more complex, said Denalee O’Malley, PhD, LSW, instructor, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

What gaps do caregivers and patients face trying to access and understand health information during treatment and post-treatment? How can oncologists and primary care physicians ensure that health literacy issues are resolved, so patients are informed about their options?
This is a this is a really tricky issue, because [as] treatments become more and more complicated, it … can be very time consuming and complex to communicate treatment options, but also risk in a way that people understand that.

So, I think it’s really important to assess what a patient understands about their illness. Also, what they understand about the goals of their treatment—is everyone on the same page as to what the actual goal of the treatment is? And also, what are the practicalities—do they understand what they need in that environment to manage that? Do they have the practical issues covered financially to be able to get the resources they need to manage the day-to-day issues getting to and from treatment?

I think that not only do we need to asses it from a health literacy perspective, but also helping patients to make sense of what this means to them in their world—do they accommodate it without help and do they need help and are there people on the healthcare team who can assist them so that they can have the optimal treatment outcome.
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