As a newly diagnosed lung cancer patient, what are key questions to ask? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya share advice on questions to lung cancer care providers and the reasoning behind specific questions to work toward optimal care.
Dr. Nicole Rochester:
What are some key questions that patients and care partners should ask at the very beginning when they are first beginning this journey with lung cancer?
Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya:
So, I would say…question number one that I would ask is like, “Do you specialize in this? Is this something that you do on a regular basis? What percentage of your practice is lung cancer care?” You would really like an answer that’s more than 50 percent, you would like someone who sees lung cancer patients and takes care of lung cancer patients as a matter of routine. And something I would also say as a patient, you kind of want your care to be routine, you don’t want to be someone where things are just being figured out for the first time, you really want to have someone who does this all the time. The other questions I would ask are, “Can you tell me what all the options are, not just the one you’re offering to me? I really want to know what all the options are.” And I always tell patients the options are really very broad. And a physician chose the option is one, you may want to not do anything that is an option, you know saying, “We know it’s there, we understand, and we’re going to watch it or not do anything,” is a very reasonable option they should tell you about biopsies or surgery or non-invasive therapeutic modalities.
You really want to say, “I want you to give me the laundry list, all the things that are possible in the institution that I’m sitting in.” And then I would also ask, “What are the things that you are not considering before that might be options? What are the things that maybe you’ve ruled out in your mind, and can you tell me more about that?” Because we’re very physicians, we’re very good at heuristics, really good at skipping steps and making next logical jobs, so it’s good to ask one of those steps that you skipped in your mind, and why did you skip them?” And then the last thing I would ask is, “Is this the kind of case that should be discussed in a multi-disciplinary clinic or conference? Is there anybody else I should talk to about this problem?” And I think if you can ask those questions and feel very confident about asking those questions again, most practitioners who are high level and specializing in this will not be offended, they will be glad that you’re asking the question, it will be a relief for both of you. I think if you can ask those questions, you can really help to eliminate some of those ascites and really get on the right trajectory from the beginning.
Dr. Nicole Rochester:
Those are such important questions, starting with the first one you provided, which is, “Do you specialize in this?” I think that we spend a lot of time sometimes betting, other professionals, even hair stylists, or if we want to get our car fixed, we want to go to the person that specializes and whatever is wrong with that particular problem, but we don’t always take such care with our most precious commodity, our body. So, I think that’s so incredibly important that we ask that question, and it’s not to make bad comments about those who don’t, but people like yourself have trained for many years, and there’s something to be said about that when this is your area of focus, and this is what you do day in, day out. So, I love that, I also really love what you said about kind of getting inside of the brain of the doctor, because you’re right, we’re skipping steps and we’re going through algorithms, but we don’t often bring the patient into that process, and so I really love the idea of the patients questioning, “Are there things that you didn’t consider and why?” And really having a full understanding, understanding of all of those treatment options, and maybe if the doctor has erroneously ruled out one of those possibilities based on maybe an assumption that gives the patient an opportunity to clarify that.
Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya:
And I would say, as a patient, oftentimes, we want to ascribe very positive feelings towards your physician, it’s a notch, a very natural thing to do because you want them to be good, so that eventually you’ll be good, and they’ll take good care of you. You want to ascribe those positive thoughts, and I think that’s very reasonable. But we should approach that with a little bit of question, because this is someone who has a lot of information and a lot of knowledge, and you want to make sure you are getting everything in the middle, so it doesn’t get lost in translation. You want to make sure you’re there for that conversation.