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Information and Communication

Heather M. Hylton, MS, PA-C

01 Dec 2011 2:09 PM

A recent article in the ASCO Post has me thinking quite a bit about information and communication and the application of these concepts to patient care.  

So are information and communication one and the same? I would argue no. And this article underscores the hazards of giving information without actively engaging in the art of communication.

In this modern era of medicine and technology, we are becoming even savvier at disseminating information and also guiding our patients to a wide variety of resources with a patient-centered focus. When you take a step back, it’s really quite amazing the potpourri of tools available to patients today for accessing information. Patients (and their family members for that matter) can even access test results from their personal computers. Sometimes the reporting systems are such that, for whatever reason, patients have access to these results even before their providers do!

But what is the value of all of this without actual communication? I would argue very little.  

In the article, Ms. Tavegia shares that while receiving a cancer diagnosis was certainly disquieting, it was the actual prospect of undergoing chemotherapy that was a source of even more distress. It was the art of communication, ultimately, that helped assuage her fears of going through chemotherapy, not other resources available to her.

Now, that is not to say that patient portals, electronic sources, and printed resources do not have a place in patient care—quite the contrary. These have tremendous value in the spectrum of patient care: they provide information in a written format that helps support ongoing communication. Also important, these resources can help to empower patients, something of value beyond measure. 

It is essential that we not only actively communicate with patients about their disease, treatment options, and goals of care, but that we speak candidly with them about what resources they are utilizing and how they feel about what they are reading and address any concerns that arise. Furthermore, we need to be sure we follow up with patients on any materials we personally distribute.   

As clinicians, we should continue to be mindful of all that is out there for our patients to take in about what they are facing or going through and consider this another opportunity to connect with them, easing the burden of their path wherever we can do so.

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Heather M. Hylton, MS, PA-C