Healthcare in the US is evolving at an unprecedented rate. These changes have been driven by changing patient expectations, financial pressures, and the covid19 pandemic. Similar to other industries, making healthcare increasingly convenient has become a top priority for patients. The healthcare industry will be expected to keep up with the modern world of Amazon same day delivery, Google in your pocket, and the efficiencies of a sharing economy. It is critical that healthcare continues to be a physician led industry, and in order to maintain our leadership role, Physicians must begin to prioritize the patient experience.
Patient experience is a broad topic which encompasses every facet of our healthcare system. As an Oncologist, I work daily to stay current on the frequently changing landscape of innovative cancer treatments. I believe physicians need to work just as hard to modernize the patient experience. Patient advocates and Healthcare policy experts continue to point out what the modern patient demands. This includes pricing transparency, shared decision making and effective interactions. Clinicians are needed for nuance that the administrators and experts can’t understand. This is what can be described as the intangibles of the patient experience. For example, I know my patients appreciate that they can reach me directly by cell phone 24/7/365, have same day appointments as needed, and have access to a team of in house financial experts who focus on minimizing the costs associated with cancer care. In 2021, strong cancer care includes accurate diagnosis, staging and treatment but also requires convenient access to clinicians, financial management, and a team based approach. Oncology is a complex and rapidly changing field. There are many controversies which include costs of care, access to care, and equity in care. There is no easy answer to provide innovative treatments at low cost to the masses in an equitable fashion. As we work through these controversial topics, it is imperative that we keep the patient experience at the core of cancer care.
I can tell you from years of experience that telling someone that they will die in 3-6 months is never easy. I can also tell you, from no experience whatsoever, that hearing your life will end in the next few months is even harder. What makes matters worse, cancer patients enter into a world where they do not speak the language (I can barely pronounce Axicabtagene Ciloleucel myself!), do not know what the future will look like, and don’t know if they can afford the staggering associated costs. Although we are the caretakers of our society, we are also patients. Our families are patients. Physicians need to focus on creating a patient experience that is worthy of their parents, their spouse, and their child. If we neglect the patient experience by focusing only on overall survival, progression free survival and toxicity, we will not provide healthcare worthy of our patients. I would ask that physicians spend time reflecting on what is involved in the patient experience and consider what they can contribute to make things easier for patients.
I am sure that every American has had a healthcare experience that could have been improved. We all have had a hard time reaching our physician. We have all struggled to understand the bill. It’s more important than ever that we begin to share these experiences and use them to do better for ourselves, for our families, and for our patients.