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What Are the Barriers to Lung Cancer Care?

What Are the Barriers to Lung Cancer Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 What are some barriers to lung cancer care? Experts Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Olugbenga Okusanyadiscuss factors that impact lung cancer care and some ways that care access can be improved for better care. 

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

We know that there are many factors that can negatively impact outcomes for patients and families facing a lung cancer diagnosis, including things like social stigma for smoking, geographic location, socioeconomic status, insurance and access to care, financial hardships and access to transportation. So, my question to you, Dr. Okusanya is, what are some of the barriers that both lung cancer patients and their care partners face when they are seeking care? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

First of all, thank you very much for putting a spotlight on lung cancer care, we really need more people to help us treat this really terrible disease. 

There are a number of barriers for our patients in order to get the best care possible. Number one, we actually find this diagnosis, we find that a lot of patients, have long nodules that have been seen because maybe they got a chest X-ray or a CAT scan for some other reason, and maybe they don’t get followed up on because they don’t have a steady source of healthcare, they don’t have a PCP or someone who regularly follows up on their health information. We have trouble also sometimes getting patients in the appropriate diagnostic studies that they need, oftentimes, we find patients that may show up in the hospital that have a significant problem and they may need a special kind of CAT scan or a biopsy, and they simply do not have the resources to get to said CAT scan or get to said biopsy, which is critical in making the appropriate diagnosis so we can get them to the right therapy. One of the biggest things that you mentioned is finding a specialist in terms of all aspects of lung cancer care, whether it is surgery, medical oncology, or radiation oncology, there are medical practitioners that mostly specialize in lung cancer care, and because of that, they’re going to have access to different resources, they’re going to think differently about the disease process and they’re going to approach each patient differently because of the disease process. So, finding someone who really thinks and works in the lung cancer space all the time, I think it’s a barrier to patients getting really good care. 

We also find that one, cancer care has a lot of hurdles, apart from proper CAT scans, biopsies, work-ups, actual interventions, there are a lot of steps that patients have to go, to get from even just getting a diagnosis to getting treatment and having patients move through that period of time, which is we hope usually four to six weeks in a sort of step-by-step manner can be extremely eliminating. So we really are trying to condense those things so patients can meet all the specialists, they need to get all the tests that they need to get in maybe one or two concise visits and then get into care, and lastly, as you mentioned, not having access to what we call multidisciplinary conferences is a limitation because there are more and more nuanced ways that lung cancer is presenting and being treated, that needs to be discussed between a surgeon and radiation oncologists and the medical oncologists, preferably all in the same setting, all at the same time. So having access to those clinics where we can have a really high-level discussion about the best thing to do for a patient, I feel is a significant barrier, especially for our patients with advanced disease 

How Can I Get the Best Lung Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live?

How Can I Get the Best Lung Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can those living with lung cancer ensure they get quality care even if they live in rural areas? How can lung cancer patients gain confidence in voicing treatment concerns and in communicating with their healthcare team? Watch as Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya shares key points about such vital topics for the lung cancer community.

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Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, your host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program. Today we’re going to be talking about how long cancer patients can truly get the best care no matter where you and your family live. We’re going to talk about things like how can I remove roadblocks in my care to gain access to state-of-the-art treatment? Will my insurance limit me if I want to get a second opinion? As a care partner, how do I best advocate for my partner, and is a clinical trial right for me? The answers to some of these questions we’ve received revolve around awareness, feeling empowered to ask questions, and connecting to the right resources at the right time. In this program we’ll be learning just that as we meet our guest expert. It is my honor and privilege to be joined by Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya, he is an assistant professor of Thoracic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Okusanya. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Absolutely. It’s a pleasure to be here, thank you for having me. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Now we’re gonna start with talking about some of the barriers to lung cancer care. We know that there are many factors that can negatively impact outcomes for patients and families facing a lung cancer diagnosis, including things like social stigma for smoking, geographic location, socioeconomic status, insurance and access to care, financial hardships, and access to transportation. So, my first question to you, Dr. Okusanya is, what are some of the barriers that both lung cancer patients and their care partners face when they are seeking care? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

First of all, thank you very much for putting a spotlight on lung cancer care, we really need more people to help us treat this really terrible disease. 

There are a number of barriers for our patients in order to get the best care possible. Number one, we actually find at diagnosis, we find that a lot of patients have lung nodules that have been seen because maybe they got a chest x-ray or a CAT scan for some other reason, and maybe they don’t get followed up on because they don’t have a steady source of healthcare, they don’t have a PCP or someone who regularly follows up on their health information. We have trouble also sometimes getting patients in the appropriate diagnostic studies that they need, oftentimes, we find patients that may show up in the hospital that have a significant problem and they may need a special kind of CAT scan or a biopsy, and they simply do not have the resources to get to said CAT scan or get to said biopsy, which is critical in making the appropriate diagnosis so we can get them to the right therapy. One of the biggest things that you mentioned is finding a specialist in terms of all aspects of lung cancer care, whether it is surgery, medical oncology, or radiation oncology, there are medical practitioners that mostly specialize in lung cancer care, and because of that, they’re gonna have access to different resources, they’re gonna think differently about the disease process and they’re gonna approach each patient differently because of the disease process So finding someone who really thinks and works in the lung cancer space all the time, I think it’s a barrier to patients getting really good care. 

We also find that one, cancer care has a lot of hurdles, apart from proper CAT scans, biopsies, work-ups, actual interventions, there are a lot of steps that patients have to go, to get from even just getting a diagnosis to getting treatment and having patients move through that period of time, which is we hope usually four to six weeks in a sort of step-by-step manner can be extremely eliminating. So we really are trying to condense those things so patients can meet all the specialists, they need to get all the tests that they need to get in maybe one or two concise visits and then get into care, and lastly, as you mentioned, not having access to what we call multidisciplinary conferences is a limitation because there are more and more nuanced ways that lung cancer is presenting and being treated, that needs to be discussed between a surgeon and radiation oncologists and the medical oncologists, preferably all in the same setting, all at the same time. So having access to those clinics where we can have a really high-level discussion about the best thing to do for a patient, I feel is a significant barrier, especially for our patients with advanced disease. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you so much. Wow, you have given us so much to think about and I appreciate your thorough answer. One of the things that I’m struck with as you talk about all of these steps and the fact that ideally, they need to be undergone within a certain time period, of course, it’s time-sensitive. And you mentioned navigating, and certainly, that’s something that I deal with on a regular basis, just the challenges of navigating through each one of those steps can be extremely difficult, you’ve gone through a lot of the barriers that patients and their family caregivers may face. Let’s talk about some of the solutions. Are there a few solutions that you can suggest for overcoming some of these barriers that you just described? 

 
Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, I think from the patient’s perspective, there are a number of things you can do to really help yourself. Number one is a good healthy dose of research, that means getting online, Googling, finding lung cancer experts, preferably in your region, finding out what their interests are, what are the things that they typically research and take care of, and then finding a way to get in contact with them. I think that is really step number one, it’s finding someone who specializes in the disease, and then to find someone that you actually get along, someone who you have a relationship with, a truly therapeutic relationship and invest in that person, and if they’re the right person for you, whether it be personality fit, whether it be background, you will find a relationship with them that will actually help you get through that process. I would also say many programs actually have nurse navigators who are people that help you navigate this process, that is quite literally why they are part of the health system, so if you can find programs and have nurse navigators, they can really be instrumental in setting up appointments that are either overlapped right after one another, all in the same place, things that really help smooth the edges of getting all the work I’ve done at on time. 

And again, I would also recommend the patients, I would try to stack your appointments or stack your visits so that they are not quite so spread out over space and time, because a visit, usually it takes a few days to get a result, which then takes a few days to get a course of action, which then can sometimes provoke another test. 

So, the more times than things are stacked together and information just a get to get in big packets, I think really the better for moving through the process. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

I appreciate that. I think what I’m hearing in your answers is really the importance of patients putting themselves in the driver’s seat, which is another thing that I strongly advocate for. I think many patients and family members don’t see that as their role, and they don’t understand and appreciate the value of doing these things that you just talked about, doing your own research and finding providers with whom you connect it’s so incredibly important, especially when it comes to cancer and other serious diseases. So, I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about racial and health disparities, ethnic and health disparities, specifically in lung cancer care. I know that you have done some research in this area, and certainly being a person of color, this is something that I would imagine you relate to, so we know that the CDC and many other healthcare organizations have now declared racism a public health crisis, and certainly in 2021, we continue to see worse outcomes for cancer and many other chronic illnesses in people of color, so I’m curious, what do you think are the notable health disparities that are consistently seen in treating BIPOC patients living with lung cancer? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, unfortunately, this is an area of interest of mine. And it turns out that the disparities are literally every single stage. There’s not an aspect of lung cancer care, which there is not a significant disparity that hinders the ability of minority patients to get better care, period at all stages. So overall survival for lung cancer for black patient is worse than white patients, even though black patients get diagnosed on average two to three years younger than their white counterparts. Black patients are less likely to get surgical therapy for early-stage disease, which is the actual care for an early-stage disease dates than black patients, than white patients, that gap has been narrowing over the last 20 years, but it is by no means closed. Black patients are unfortunately less likely to get an appropriate work-up to get the indicated tests. They are also less likely to get the chemotherapy when it is indicated, and they are less likely to be enrolled in clinical trials. So, literally at every step there is a significant inequity that affects black patients, and I think it’s really disheartening to see in a field where lung cancer is the most common killer and cancer, and frankly, there are lots and lots of patients who have options, who have good options that never get investigated and never get delivered. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is extremely heartbreaking, and it’s sad to hear that we see the same disparities in lung cancer that we see with every other chronic condition, with every other cancer, certainly what we’ve seen recently with COVID-19 as well, and it really underscores what you said previously, which is the importance of being an advocate for yourself and doing your research and making sure that you really are getting the best care, which could be difficult when you’re struggling with your cancer diagnosis. Sometimes I get angry, I feel like we’re putting so much responsibility and so much burden on the patient. With that said, what are some things that patients of color can do in order to protect themselves from these inequities that you’ve talked about, starting with diagnosis and treatment, what can we do? What can patients of color do? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

So, I think the number one thing is to ask questions, the number one thing is to say, what are my options? What am I dealing with? What should I do or what shouldn’t I do? And to really make sure you get the most at that time when you see a physician, because that is really what we’re there for apart from the surgery, I’m really there to be an educator. I teach as much as I operate on a daily basis whether it be the medical training is whether in my patients, my job is to communicate information back and forth, so you really want to spend the time asking questions and getting as much information out, as much as you can. Number two is, see a specialist. There’s also very good data to indicate that as a black patient, if you see a board-certified thoracic surgeon, you are more likely to get lung cancer surgery than if you were to see a surgeon of unknown specialization, a general surgeon. So clearly the training gives specialist the ability to make finer determinations and discernments that I think in large part favor black and minority patients, so you wanna find someone who deals with these disease processes all the time because they’re gonna look at it in a much higher level and look at it with a lot more granularity. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Just have to repeat what you said, you said, I teach as much as I operate. That just really resonated with me, and I think that… That’s so incredibly important. Doctor means teacher, right? I think that’s the Latin… We are obligated to teach our patients, so I just really appreciate that that’s something that you incorporate in your daily practice. If we shift gears a little bit and talk about access and some of the concerns about treatment access for lung cancer patients, which you’ve actually alluded to, we know that sometimes these barriers that patients face actually limit their access to treatments, and you indicated surgery as being the mainstay and some difficulties with that, so how can we empower patients so that they don’t feel limited in their care, and how do we make them aware of these treatment options that are available, so that if they are in an office and maybe something’s being offered, but that’s not actually, the standard of care, how do we empower them to get that information and then to act on it? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, so number one, which is something I think people do and they don’t realize how valuable it is, bring a friend to the appointment, don’t come by yourself, because you are in an incredibly vulnerable position, you’ve learned or are learning something incredibly emotionally charged and usually very scary. So, you want to bring someone who obviously is gonna love you and care about you, but has enough emotional distance from it that they can be your advocate, they can ask those questions in the room that you may just not be there mentally to ask. Number two, never be afraid to get a second opinion, if you’re lucky enough to live in a populous area with multiple health systems, get a copy of your chart, get a copy of your data, get your disc, make an appointment to see another specialist in another health system and see what they say. Because at the very least, if the information is concordant, then you’re gonna feel pretty good about saying, okay, then I should just go where I think I feel best or who I have the best sort of relationship with. And again, if you are not lucky enough to have that opportunity, I would be very aggressive about seeing if telehealth is an option to reach out to someone who is a specialist, I’ve had not happened to me in the past, I remember I had a woman who telehealth, me from Ohio, because she’d actually read one of my papers about lung cancer, and she sent her scans, uploaded them, I looked at them and I gave her my opinion, and this is the new age or medicine. 

This is where we’re at now. This is a viable option, and even if telehealth isn’t an option, you can always just get on the phone. As a lung cancer specialist, a lot of the information I need can be garnered from test scans and images, so frankly, the physical exam has some role, but is not the mainstay of how a lot of the decisions are made. So even if I see your scans and I talk to you, I can give you an opinion over the phone, it takes me 15-20 minutes, and a lot of times, those visits may not even be charged, depending on who you actually ask to give you an opinion. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester:

Wow. Free of charge. Okay, I see you’re teaching me something that I didn’t know. I’m a huge proponent of second opinions, I’ve talked to so many patients and family caregivers who think that they’re offending their doctor if they ask for a second opinion, so I appreciate that you brought that to the forefront and you deserve to have multiple opinions as you’re making these very important life-changing decisions. So, thank you for sharing that. This is a perfect segue. You mentioned telehealth, and we know that one of the barriers to receiving care, and you’ve indicated that in terms of having access to a multi-disciplinary team, having access to thoracic surgeons as opposed to general surgeons, so we know that that is impacted by where we live, and that often our geographic location can actually be a barrier to the receipt of quality care, so I’d love for you to just talk a little bit about how patients who may be in more remote locations can make sure that they are also receiving appropriate care for their lung cancer. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, I think this is a very substantive challenge, I think this is one of the holes in healthcare, there’s these regions in the country where you just are not gonna have access to any number of surgical sub-specialist or radiation oncologist, or lung cancer specific oncologists. I think that is a really big challenge. I think we have actually learned through the pandemic that these physical barriers really are not the reason to not get the best care, so I think those patients should be exquisitely interested in telehealth and in phone calls, and I think most healthcare systems now, because the reimbursements have been approved for telehealth and actually now built infrastructure to support it as an ongoing concept. So now, if you are a patient that’s in Arizona and you want to talk to a doctor who’s in New Jersey, you can do that, you can make that happen. If you find someone, you Google them, you find a friend in that area who know someone, you can call their office and say, I want to have a telehealth visit, and as long as you have broadband internet and a phone, you can do it. You can have that conversation. 

So, I would advocate for people to really make sure that you at least feel like people in the sort of local regional area that you can perhaps get to maybe two, three hours away, but you can imagine a scenario where you can get there, you can try and establish some level of care and some level of rapport with them. I think that’s something that has really opened, has been one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I was gonna say the exact same thing. That is one… There haven’t been a lot of positive things, but that certainly is one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic, is this surge, and it’s not that we already had the capability, but it certainly was not being used to its maximum capacity. I appreciate that. So, speaking of telemedicine and COVID, think one of the challenges that patients and often care partners have is understanding when is a telemedicine or telehealth visit appropriate versus when do you actually need to go see that doctor in person, so… Can you help clarify that? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Yeah, so I think in general, even if you start with the telehealth is, I think there’s very little downside to telehealth for almost anyone in general, because a lot of the information can be garnered from the patient record, from their scans. I think in general; it gives you 85% of what you need out of that interaction, and it may be more convenient for the patient, a lot of times it’s actually more convenient for the doctors, doctors have now found ways to work from home. They do have to have their clinic from home, it’s a much more relaxed environment than more efficient. I think there are times like for instance, I have to make decisions about offering surgery to patients who I consider to be moderate or high risk, I think there is a benefit and having that patient come and see me in the office because they have to somehow pass what we call the eyeball test, and that is a little bit of where this disparity comes in in lung cancer surgery, because it depends on who’s eyeball is looking at you, making your determination about what they think is gonna happen with you in surgery. 

I remember… Actually, one of my favorite patients ever. She had data that did not look like she would tolerate surgery, everything about her data did not look favorable. And I saw her, I remember seeing her in person, and you could see the spark in her eye and energy that she had, and I said, you know what, we’re gonna do it. And she did great, she did phenomenally well. And that is a case where if you’re in the population of patients that may be slightly more moderate, slightly more high risk, and you need someone to really look you in the eye and you say, I’m going to do what it takes to get through this. I think that’s the patient where the in-touch, in-person visit really is that extra touch that can be benefited.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Wow, I love what you said about the spark in her eye and also how you connected that to health disparities, and I don’t know the race or ethnicity of the patient that you’re describing, but we certainly know that that makes a difference, and I just wonder if that had been a different physician, would they have seen that same spark? And I think it just goes back to what we were talking about earlier, and the importance of finding a physician or health care provider with whom you connect, someone that actually respects you, someone that listens to you and see you as a whole person. So, the fact that you were willing to go beyond that data on her chart, which screamed, this is a poor surgical candidate, met her in person, and something about her let you know that she was gonna be okay. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Agree. And that’s why in medicine and surgery is still art at the end of the day, it’s still an art. You make decisions, best informed decisions, but there’s a lot of it that is still really special and mystical in a way, and I think having that in-person interactions will let you practice that and it’s exactly what you said, you want to have a really nice relationship with the physician, especially anyone that’s gonna be doing anything that might be invasive or dangerous because for the most part, you meet someone for 45 minutes and then you sign up for what could be a life-threatening event. So, you, the physician and the patient should feel really good about that interaction and whatever that energy is, it’s really important, it’s a little bit kind of sacred, I think, and I think it’s really valuable to invest in that if you don’t like the surgeon, you really don’t feel like it’s a good fit or you don’t like your oncologist, find someone else. You’ll do better in the long run, for sure. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is so incredibly important. I agree, 100%. So much of healing is beyond just the nuts and bolts of the medical care that we provide, or in your case, the surgical care, there’s so much more to that, that’s not really well studied, but that relationship and that connection is key. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Critical, and that’s not to say that necessarily the person has to be like the warmest, friendlies, the most fun person you ever met, some people prefer a more yes ma’am, no ma’am, clear cut, well-defined boundaries of a relationship. Some people prefer a big hug and a laugh and a joke, so if you’re getting what you need, that’s exactly what you need, and if you’re not getting what you need, you should think about your other options. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Love it, love it. Alright, Dr. Okusanya, so we’re gonna talk now about staying on that theme of empowering patients, we know that all of these barriers that we’ve been discussing can impact and limit treatment options, and we know that late diagnoses or not getting the proper care at the outset will lead to more complications and unfortunately, even death in some situations, and as you’ve alluded to, we know that patients who are educated about their illness, patients who take an active role in their medical care receive better care, they have better outcomes. So, 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 something that you do on the regular basis? What percentage of your practice is lung cancer care? You would really like an answer that’s more than 50%, you would like someone who sees lung cancer patients and take 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 wanna be someone where things are just being figured out for the first time, you really wanna 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 wanna know what all the options are, and I always tell patients the options are really very broad. A physician chose the option is one, you may wanna not do anything that is an option, you know saying We know it’s there; we understand and we’re gonna 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 wanna 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 physician, they’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 life 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, 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 wanna get our car fixed, we wanna 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 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. 

That is very powerful. 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

And I would say, as a patient, oftentimes, we wanna describe 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 wanna 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 wanna make sure you are getting everything in the middle, so it doesn’t get lost in translation. You wanna make sure you’re there for that conversation. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely. What advice do you give to patients that you see so that they can feel empowered Dr. Okusanya? Is there any specific advice that you give when you see patients and things that just helped them to take this active role that you’ve been describing? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

Number one, I tell patients to bring someone with them to their appointments, someone who can stand by as within reason someone who can be there to listen as well, ’cause usually I say, if I tell you 100 things in an appointment which can legitimately have, I could give you 100 unique points of information and in 1 45-minute visit. If you catch 30 of them or 35 of them, you really understand that. I think that’s a lot because they’re very emotionally charged. So, hopefully someone else, it’s with you, maybe catches another 30 or 40, and that gets you to a point where you can really sit down later and understand. I encourage patients to take notes to write things down, and if they want to, to record, to have audio recording of the session, I wouldn’t say anything to you now that I wouldn’t say in a month or in a year, or anywhere else. I’m gonna tell you exactly what I think and I… And if I have uncertainty, I will expose that uncertainty, I will let you know that this is a case that could go either way. And this is a piece of information that I’m looking back and forward between these two options and that really helps the patients later on go back and say, Did I really hear that right? Did I really understand it, right? So that you can feel like you’re getting the best care, and I really think that you have to make sure that you feel comfortable with the provider. 

I think that’s just the number one thing. Are you happy with them? Do you like the way they comported themselves? Did you like the way they spoke to you? Did you like their staff? Also remember, you’re likely gonna be interacting with their staff as much as you interact with the physician, so the other people in the office, the front desk people, the nurse practitioners, the medical assistants, those are the people that you’re gonna spend a lot of time talking to. Did you have a good rapport with them? Also, all that stuff counts to make sure that you’re getting the best experience possible and that you can really be an advocate for yourself. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

That is incredible. Well, it’s just about time for us to wrap up, I just wanna reiterate, you share so many pearls today, but I just wanna reiterate a few of them, and they really resonate with me as a former caregiver and as a health advocate, but that’s the importance of asking questions, the importance of bringing a buddy, and I appreciate that, particularly in your field, when we go into a doctor’s office and the word cancer is stated, everything else goes out of the window, and even in less threatening situations, there’s data that shows that… I think about 20% to 25% of what we say as physicians is actually retained, so certainly when you get a bad diagnosis, that number is even lower, so bringing somebody with you who is not necessarily emotionally detached, but they can literally kind of be the note taker, and they may even pick up on some nuances and things that you may have missed as a patient is so incredibly important. I love that you’ve offered the option of recording, I think that’s also another tool that many patients and family members aren’t aware of, and I think there’s an assumption, and it’s true to some degree that doctors don’t wanna be recorded, but knowing that that is an option. 

The fact that the care that we receive really is impacted by whether or not the person specializes in lung cancer, a thoracic surgeon, and being empowered to ask that question, is this your specialty? How often do you see patients like me and being empowered to ask those questions that ultimately won’t lead to improve care is just so incredibly important, and I think just everything that you’ve shared that really allows the patients and the caregivers to understand just how important their role is you’re the one that’s going to take out the cancer and you’re the one that’s going to get them better, but there’s so many things that happen before that step, before they are on that operating room table that is so important. Do you have any closing thoughts that you’d like to share with us, Dr. Okusanya? 

Dr. Olugbenga Okusanya: 

I think for patients and their advocates, I think it’s really important number that you’re putting together a health care team. You’re putting together a group of people like the avengers. You’re putting together a bunch of people to come together to help you deal with this health problem. You are entering into a therapeutic relationship, so that relationship has to be healthy in order for you to have the best possible outcome, you should feel good about, you know, your doctor is gonna be very skilled, became very knowledgeable, and just like we talked about before. You really wanna find someone who has the heart of a teacher, someone who can sit down and explain it to you in a way that’s gonna be digestible and that is gonna be actionable. So I think if patients and advocates remember that you wanna build a really solid, a really healthy relationship with someone who’s gonna help you take care your health, I think if you do that, you’re going to be in excellent care.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Awesome. Well, I really enjoyed this time. Thank you so much, Dr. Okusanya, you have given us so much useful information, and I wanna thank all of you again for tuning into the Patient Empowerment Network program.  

What Barriers Do Prostate Cancer Patients Face When Seeking Care?

What Barriers Do Prostate Cancer Patients Face When Seeking Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What barriers do prostate cancer patients face in gaining access to care? Host Dr. Nicole Rochester and Dr. Yaw Nyame and Dr. Petros Grivas share their perspectives on factors that impact access to care and ways some barriers can be removed to improve prostate cancer care.

See More From Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where You Live


Related Resources:

How Can I Get the Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live?


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Drs. Nyame and Grivas, we know that location, socioeconomic status, insurance, financial hardships, lack of urologists in rural areas, geographic distance services and access to transportation all play an important role in the outcomes for patients and families facing a prostate cancer diagnosis. So, I want to start with our first question, and we’ll start with you, Dr. Grivas, what are some of the barriers, both prostate cancer patients and their care partners face when seeking care? 

Dr. Grivas:

The number of those factors have to do with the location of the patient as you mentioned, patients regardless of race, if they live in a rural community, then they have less communication or contact with a medical care system, and that’s in all reality there’s data suggesting that a cruelty to states this access to care issue is becoming more and more noticeable, and the distance involved in some ways to get a medical facility, let alone a specialized medical facility, specialized in-person culture. It can be a big problem. The other issue that we have seen many times, again, in some communities more than others, is a healthcare literacy and the preventive mindset as I call it, and that again, can transpire across races, but maybe even more intense in some of the populations. And when I talk about health literacy and preventive mindset, it’s about the relationship, an individual of the healthcare system, and sometimes the distrust, right, that may take place and also the, I would say comfort that the patient has to enter and access a medical care system that they can allow the providers to take care of them, and these are real, I would say, examples that we have seen based on having this concern of letting sales be taken care of in a medical system, competing problems and barriers include financial contraction, that’s a big one.  

Insurance coverage. We know that patients who…I would say social determinants of health may have not very good coverage, and this may be restricting award medical facilities that they can access, and also the cost of care, co-pays, for example, when diagnostic tests or acute interventions for orderly available agents can be a big carrier and no compliance can be diminished with co-pay. Of course, you mentioned many other factors, transportation issues, finding coverage of work, getting day off work can be a problem for some patients, and also the cost of transportation or lodging or parking sometimes can be a problem or even the anxiety to go to a big city and deal with a traffic, of course. So there are many factors, of course, but I think we have to have a systematic approach how to catalog them and address them in a comprehensive way, and I think there are some improvements and we can talk about them today, for example, telemedicine and others, but I think the list is long, and we have to keep an open mind and engaged patient advocates in cataloging those barriers. Maybe Dr. Nyame can comment further in that regard. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

You covered a lot of ground, and I appreciate that. Dr. Nyame, I’d love for you to either add to that list or maybe expand based on your perspectives. 

Dr. Nyame: 

Dr. Grivas didn’t leave me with much to cover, which is great. I think what you hear, in his answer to that question is that this is really a social issue, and I think when we talk about inequities in health, we have to recognize that race in this country, and many places around the world really reflects a social construct, and so the things that really predict how people are going to be able to utilize our services and how well they’re going to do reflect that greater social context, and so to me…you have to meet the patient where they are. And the strength of the relationships that you can build between the healthcare system and the communities that are at risk, especially the ones that have the highest disproportionate risk of bad outcomes or not being able to utilize services is important. And so the barriers include all the things we talked about, but a lot of them that we’ve talked about have been very much healthcare-facing, so we talk about transportation, what we mean that in the source of transportation to our facilities or we talk about money, but we talk about money and the ability to pay for our services, we also miss the other ways in which those social barriers and factors impact the ability to prioritize one’s health. 

Dr. Nyame: 

And so that is a really big problem. And something that we also need to put in the context of this conversation. I think when we take the covers off and we really see what our patients’ lives are like, sometimes we recognize that it’s not just about their ability to utilize the services that we provide, but that there are bigger issues at hand that also need addressing. Those aren’t in Dr. Grivas and I’s domain, but I think we have to understand those things to meet our patients where they are. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, I really appreciate that both of you have really focused on those social determinants of health. I appreciate you mentioning racism, and the fact that the patients being able to prioritize their health, I think historically in medicine, we have blamed our patients for not taking care of themselves, so to speak, without a full appreciation of all of these barriers that both of you have just identified, so I really appreciate that. 

How Can I Get the Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live?

How Can I Get the Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where I Live? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can prostate cancer patients ensure they get quality care even if they live in rural areas? Noted experts, Dr. Petros Grivas and Dr. Yaw Nyame share advice and discuss how to receive optimal care no matter your geography or financial status. Learn about resources and digital tools you can utilize to ensure better care no matter where you live. 

See More From Best Prostate Cancer Care No Matter Where You Live


Related Resources:


Transcript:

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Hello and welcome. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, your host for today’s Patient Empowerment Network program, and we are so happy that you’ve tuned in. Today we’re going to be talking about how prostate cancer patients can truly get the best care no matter where you and your family live, we’re going to talk about things like how can I remove roadblocks in my care to gain access to state-of-the-art treatment? Will my insurance limit me if I wanna get a second opinion as a care partner, how do I best advocate for my loved one and is a clinical right for me? The answers to some of these questions we receive revolve around awareness, feeling empowered to ask questions and connecting to the right resources at the right time. In this program we’ll be learning just that as we meet our experts. It is my honor and privilege to be joined by Dr. Petros Grivas, Associate Professor and clinical director of the genitourinary cancer program at the University of Washington. And Dr. Yaw Nyame, Assistant Professor in the Department of Urology at the University of Washington. Thank you so much for joining us today, gentlemen. 

Dr. Nyame:

Thank you for having us. 

Dr. Grivas: 

Thank you so much for having us. It’s an honor and pleasure to be with you. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

It is my honor as well. Please remember that this program is not a substitute for seeking medical care, so please be sure to connect with your healthcare team on the best options for you. Now, let’s take a few minutes to set the stage and give a brief overview of barriers in the way of achieving equitable prostate cancer treatment. Doctors Nyame and Grivas, we know that location, socioeconomic status, insurance, financial hardships, lack of urologists in rural areas, geographic distance services and access to transportation all play an important role in the outcomes for patients and families facing a prostate cancer diagnosis. So, I wanna start with our first question, and we’ll start with you, Dr. Grivas, what are some of the barriers that prostate cancer, let me do that one again. What are some of the barriers, both prostate cancer patients and their care partners face when seeking care? 

Dr. Grivas: 

Thank you so much. These are really important discussions, and I’m glad we’re doing this program. I think you covered a number of those barriers in your introduction, and I would definitely agree with all of them because many of them are important. The number of those factors have to do with the location of the patient as you mentioned, patients regardless of race, if they live in a rural community, then they have less communication or contact with a medical care system, and that’s in all reality there’s data suggesting that a cruelty to states this access to care issue is becoming more and more noticeable, and the distance involved in some ways to get a medical facility, let alone a specialized medical facility, specialized in-person culture. It can be a big problem. The other issue that we have seen many times, again, in some communities more than others, is healthcare literacy and the preventive mindset as I call it, and that again, can transpire across races, but maybe even more intense in some of the populations. And when I talk about health literacy and preventive mindset, it’s about the relationship, an individual of the healthcare system, and sometimes the distrust, right, that may take place and also the, I would say comfort that the patient has to enter and access a medical care system that they can allow the providers to take care of them, and these are real, I would say, examples that we have seen based on having this concern of letting sales be taken care of in a medical system, competing problems and barriers include financial contraction, that’s a big one. 

Insurance coverage. We know that patients who… I would say social determinants of health may have not very good coverage, and this may be restricting award medical facilities that they can access, and also the cost of care, co-pays, for example, when diagnostic tests or acute interventions for orderly available agents can be a big carrier and no compliance can be diminished with co-pay. Of course, you mentioned many other factors, transportation issues, finding coverage of work, getting day off work can be a problem for some patients, and also the cost of transportation or lodging or parking sometimes can be a problem or even the anxiety to go to a big city and deal with a traffic of course. So there are many factors, of course, but I think we have to have a systematic approach how to catalog them and address them in a comprehensive way, and I think there are some improvements and we can talk about them today, for example, telemedicine and others, but I think the list is long, and we have to keep an open mind and engaged patient advocates in cataloging those barriers. Maybe Dr. Nyame can comment further in that regard.  

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you so much, Dr. Grivas, yeah, you covered a lot of ground, and I appreciate that Dr. Nyame I’d love for you to either add to that list or maybe expand based on your perspectives. 

Dr. Nyame:

Dr. Grivas didn’t leave me with much to cover, which is great. I think what you hear, in his answer to that question is that this is really a social issue, and I think when we talk about inequities in health, we have to recognize that race in this country, and many places around the world really reflects a social construct, and so the things that really predict how people are going to be able to utilize our services and how well they’re going to do reflect that greater social context, and so to me… You have to meet the patient where they are. And the strength of the relationships that you can build between the healthcare system and the communities that are at risk, especially the ones that have the highest disproportionate risk of bad outcomes or not being able to utilize services is important. And so the barriers include all the things we talked about, but a lot of them that we’ve talked about have been very much healthcare-facing, so we talk about transportation, what we mean that in the source of transportation to our facilities or we talk about money, but we talk about money and the ability to pay for our services, we also miss the other ways in which those social barriers and factors impact the ability to prioritize one’s health. 

And so that is a really big problem. And something that we also need to put in the context of this conversation. I think when we take the covers off and we really see what our patients’ lives are like, sometimes we recognize that it’s not just about their ability to utilize the services that we provide, but that there are bigger issues at hand that also need addressing. Those aren’t in Dr. Grivas and I’s domain, but I think we have to understand those things to meet our patients where they are. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, I really appreciate that both of you have really focused on those social determinants of health. I appreciate you mentioning racism, and the fact that the patients being able to prioritize their health, I think historically in medicine, we have blamed our patients for not taking care of themselves, so to speak, without a full appreciation of all of these barriers that both of you have just identified, so I really appreciate that. 

So we started slightly to talk about solutions, but let’s shift to solutions and what are some of the solutions that you all recommend for some of these barriers, and like you said, as physicians, a lot of that is going to be out of your purview, but I’d love for each of you to suggest any solutions for our patients and care who may be facing some of these barriers, so this time we’ll start with you, Dr. Nyame.  

Dr. Nyame: 

This is an area where I think we need to do better in collecting information to understand where the need is, and so I think there is a very much a need for translational health services or patient-centered research, where we do the simple thing, if I was gonna open up a lemonade stand in the middle of Seattle, I’d probably ask a few people what their needs are around lemonade before I open the stand, and I think in medicine, we often offer our services and solutions without having had that simple conversation of What are the needs? I think in addition to that, we have to understand that equitable care might mean offering additional services for certain populations, so for us at our cancer center, for instance, we’ve recently instituted a patient navigator program, something that’s been around for a long time, and other sites but it’s allowing us to do that, go through that exercise of providing some equitable care by helping people coordinate appointments, find their way to financial resources that might support them, and just to be there as a support in the very difficult time of having a new cancer diagnosis, so I think that’s a well-proven and well-established method for helping people get access to care. 

The other thing I’ll add is that we make decisions, I think as humans, we make decisions through community, and sometimes that’s our partner, sometimes that somebody at the gym, sometimes that’s a co-worker, and there are a lot of really fantastic patient advocacy networks that exist that can help people find this new community, and I think cancer patients share a very unique bond and in a very unique way to communicate with one another because they’re living through this particular diagnosis, and so for in the case of prostate cancer, especially prostate cancer in black men, you have the Prostate Health Education Network, you have Zero Cancer, you have Us TOO, you have the Prostate Cancer Foundation, probably leaving some advocacy groups off and I’m probably gonna get in trouble, but I think that there’s that opportunity to reach out to others and just learn… What did you go through, what worked for you? How can I meet my goals of care through just conversation with other patients and survivors, and I’ll try to leave something for Dr. Grivas to the conversation ’cause clearly I could go on and on. 

Nicole Rochester: 

Dr. Grivas? 

Dr. Grivas: 

I’ll tell you that I am learning every day from Dr. Nyame. He’s fantastic work in this important topic, and I think he covered the answer so well, if I can just add a few more things just to expand on this sorts. And these are things that already he’s doing in his programmatic development in our institution as well. I think one of the important things we have to acknowledge is the issue of systemic racism and implicit bias that I think you referred to Dr. Rochester. I think the more we talk about, the more transparent we are with it, the better because we can think about what are unconscious or subconscious thoughts that we may have, you know this patient doesn’t care about themselves. Why should we go the extra mile to help them? We should go the extra mile to help them because this patient may have less inside of the situation, and they need more resources and as a healthcare system, we should try to earn that patient, right? We should not let that patient go because every patient matters, right? And I think every life matters. I think that’s important. I think overall a systemic issue to discuss. The other thing is getting our sense of the community, and I think the examples of studies we have done in the clinic and other areas that we try to utilize the wisdom and the help of local leaders in those communities for example, underserved populations go to local churches or barber shops or gyms as Dr. Nyame mentioned and collaborate, work with the local leaders and see how we can have a dialogue with the patients there. How can we establish this trust that may be missing, how we can convey that health is important, and prevention is important, and treatment is important, how can we help with financial constraints, right? How can we get patients to the cancer center without them having to worry about how to get there, how can we reach out and have screening in the present county screening in the community, if it’s indicated then access to care telemedicine, and that brings an issue, do the patients have equipment for telemedicine, a computer, we take it for granted, but it may not be. So given those resources, organizing some local centers with this Men’s Health Day, just to get people in a room and educate them, but also learning from them what are the barriers to take it into account, not talk down to them, but learning with them and from them. 

The other thing is research and that will have to do a better job to include an offer in an equitable manor clinical trials to our patients including patients from different races and we are doing, I think, overall, okay, but we are not doing enough, we have to do better in order to provide this opportunities to our patients and the role of patient navigators is great. We can set examples, and we have patients who feel much more comfortable when they have a patient navigator. Sometimes if it happens to be in the same race with a patient then the patient feels more comfortable. They have someone that they can trust or it will be easier to talk to, and I think we should definitely improve and work harder to provide access to research inequitable manor to our patients. The last point I would say is, patient co-pay assistance programs and foundations, I think we can definitely include more resources to our patients, philanthropy, foundation support and state programs in order to give those patients the resource they need again to achieve this holy grail, which is equitable health care. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

I love that you all are focusing on equity, which as we know, is giving every patient what they need in order to achieve their optimal health, and as both of you have stated, that’s very different than equality, and so this concept that we really have to meet our patients where they are, and that some of our patients may be a little bit more than others, and that’s okay, in fact, that’s really what we have to do in order to eliminate these disparities, so I really appreciate both of your thoughts and that’s a great lead in to our next segment, which is really focused on racial and ethnic disparities, and both of you have kind of touched on this a little bit already, so we know that there are as with every other type of cancer and every other disease, there are significant health disparities with BIPOC patients, and so Dr. Nyame, I’d love for you to talk about specifically with prostate cancer, some of the disparities that you see in your practice and in your research, and then what are some things that patients of color can do to protect themselves from these inequities? 

Dr. Nyame: 

This is a very important topic for me, it’s something that I am very passionate about, and as Dr. Grivas alluded to am doing a lot of research on, and I think the statistics are so grey. Black men are 80% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. So the average man in the United States has a one and nine lifetime risk of being diagnosed prostate cancer, that’s probably one in six or one in seven black men. Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer compared to men of other races and ethnicity in the United States, and a lot of this is driven by the social milieu and factors that we’ve talked about today. What troubles me is when we talk about these statistics, I fear that that in of itself is crippling for some black men. If I have this diagnosis and I’m not gonna do well. Why should I do anything? And I can tell you that the literature and all the research that we do, and it gets refreshed every 10 years or so, someone will do the study and it shows that if we have Black men and men of other races or white men, and we give them the same treatment for the same level of disease, that the outcomes are actually very similar, and a better way to state that for me is if you’re diagnosed early and you get the treatment that you should get irrespective of your race, it seems like outcomes can be quite good. 

And so a lot of what we see with regards to prostate cancer inequities are driven by lower treatment rates and probably an impact of lower quality care. And when I say that, what does that mean? Well, do you get your care at places like the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance or the Cleveland Clinic, or John Hopkins or MD Anderson, where you have providers who are expert and do a lot of prostate cancer care, or are you being seen by someone in the community who I guarantee is an excellent clinician, but doesn’t have the same resources and the same expertise in the sense of being focused on one disease process or one set of cancers, for instance, we are genital urinary cancer specialist, a fancy term for being cancer doctors of the plumbing system, but because that’s all we focus on, we know a lot about the process we know what works, and we know what the standards of care. So I think when you can get the right treatment at the right time, and you can get it from teams that are really specialized in this, that our outcomes are going to not care about what your self-defined races when you check box. 

The problem is, how do we get… How do we close that gap that exists currently that doesn’t allow people to get that care, and I think we’ve talked about rurality, so I think… I grew up in Oklahoma, and I could see that if you are in the sticks in Oklahoma and you’re not near a cancer center, like something down in Dallas, that your care might be impacted, but… Especially if you have to travel a lot and it’s expensive. But we have major US cities like Los Angeles where you may share a zip code with a millionaire but use very different health services, so it’s not always a reflection of how far you have to travel, but it also is factors about how welcoming institutions that provide high quality care can feel for populations like our BIPOC populations who sometimes have been the subject of medical experimentation and lower quality care sometimes because they might not get shuttled to the same services historically, and I think we have a lot to undo to rebuild the trust that is required to have black men not be fearful of seeking care from us, but be trusting. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, and certainly the COVID pandemic has really brought that whole mistrust and distrust to light, so I appreciate you touching on that. We’re going to move to talk about treatment access, and I love how this conversation is flowing because so many of these elements have already been discussed, so we’re gonna talk about treatment access for prostate cancer patients, and we know that sometimes the barriers that patients face, as you mentioned actually limit their access to quality care and to appropriate treatment. So, Dr. Grivas, how can we ensure that a patient’s geographic location doesn’t dictate the quality of care that they receive? 

 Dr. Grivas: 

A very important question for sure, and I think as you point it out, we have tasked upon this before, but I think it is definitely much more to be said and done. More importantly, I think the location has to do with multiple differences in social constructs, right? The location of the distance from a cancer center with expertise is one thing at the time to get to the cancer center is related to that, and also the social support that the patient may have, if for example, a particular treatment, for example, a clinical trial, the requires a weekly visit to the cancer center, is that the feasible thing for the patient who lives miles and miles away in the rural areas of Oklahoma as Dr. Nyame mentioned or somewhere else. Can we design a clinical trial that are more friendly to these scenarios that require less frequent visits. Can we provide, if possible, funding for housing closer to the Cancer Center, and there are examples of cancer centers doing that. They provide temporary housing for the patient to be able be close the cancer center, so they don’t even worry about going back and forth across the state lines sometimes. 

The other thing, of course, is insurance coverage, and again, this can have some relation to location, and it’s something we have to think about, how can we help our patients who have significant copays because of the recommended insurance to that location being supported by foundation or all other funds that the cancer center or the state, or again, other foundations, we have. The other issues about diagnostics and treatments, there has been some interesting discussion about particularly prostate cancer, about access to what we call next generation sequencing, which is a diagnostic test aiming to profile or fingerprint the cancer DNA to look for particular mutations that the cancer may have that may lead to a particular treatment options. 

If, for example, mutation A is present, can we use a drug X that might be relevant in that context of a mutation and a recent data that was presented at ASCO 2021 showed that if you look at those mutations, they’re not very different between, for example, white and Black patients, there are similar types and frequencies of mutations. What is different is access to the test and, of course, access to the [inaudible] of the test. So I think we have to do a better job bringing ourselves to the community, extending our opportunities to the patient to get connected with the healthcare system, and they’ll build bridges to bring the patient and closer to the cancer center offering those tests. Work with patient navigation to help patients understand the significant value of the follow-up, but also provide them with a way that there’s equitable access to diagnostics and treatments. 

 Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you, thank you so much, Dr. Grivas and you’ve touched on something that I’m going to ask Dr. Nyame to elaborate on which is these fancy tests and these new technologies and things, and what we know is that a lot of times the patient themselves, if they are not aware of these particular tests, then because of all the disparities that we’ve talked about, they may not even be offered to them. And so a question for you, Dr. Nyame, how can we empower patients so that they don’t feel limited in their care, and how do we make them aware of these treatment options and diagnostic options that Dr. Grivas just spoke of? 

Dr. Nyame: 

You know that’s very challenging because Dr. Grivas, and I see this in our clinical practice, we have patients who are very savvy, that’ll come in and say that I’ve heard that there’s a PSM in San Francisco. Do you have it in Seattle? If you don’t have it in Seattle, I’m gonna go to San Francisco. And for every patient I had like that, who might be, Hey, have you read this latest article, I can have someone who has no idea of what’s going on with their diagnosis, and so how we create opportunities to bring those patients and know very little up to somewhere close, maybe not quite to the demanding the PSMA or a fancy scan level, but sophisticated enough to feel empowered in their health decision-making as something where I think we need to do research because we know that certain tools, navigation, advocacy groups can help in that arena, but I think that we need to understand what the tools are that patients want. What’s interesting is when you query patients, which we’ve done in a study and you say, What are the most pressing issues for you in your prostate cancer diagnosis, whether it’s in the localized setting or in the advanced or metastatic setting, the one thing that has resonated over and over again, irrespective of race is I need help making decisions, I need tools that will make it, me more efficient in how I make my decisions. And so I think without punting the answer too much, we need to do better, and I think part of that starts with listening. I do think that providers can be trained to provide that information in a more efficient manner. We do not… We as clinicians, are built into a system where the number of patients we see really correlates with how we get paid, and there’s not a doctor that doesn’t go to work excited to educate and build relationships with patients, that’s not the case, but there is a time crunch and I feel like in situations where there is a bigger gap and knowledge and understanding, we often don’t have enough time and built into our day to have the discussion, so for me, for a lot of my patients who I feel like have a lower understanding of what’s going on with regards to their prostate cancer diagnosis, it’s really important for me to build into our visit the understanding that whatever we don’t cover can be addressed at a later time and that we don’t have to make a decision with that at particular visit. So when I think about this, it’s sort of like your favorite barbershop or your favorite grocery store, your favorite sandwich place, the relationships matter. 

And I think when we talk about empowering patients to be advocates for themselves in their clinical visits, I think there needs to be an understanding from patients that if it doesn’t feel right, that they have options and to take their time in the decision. Prostate cancer, unlike other diseases, that Dr. Grivas and I treat doesn’t have to have the dial turn to 10 or 11 right away, and we need to make a decision because time is extremely sensitive, even in our most aggressive localized settings, which is what I treat, we have the opportunity to take weeks, if not months, to come to a decision. 

Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Thank you, thank you so much, I appreciate that. And certainly as a physician who’s also a health advocate, I strongly agree with what you said about if the relationship is not working, that there are options, and I know that that may not always be the case depending on where patients live, but I regularly encourage my clients to sometimes you have to look somewhere else, sometimes you have to get a second opinion or maybe even fire your doctor if the relationship is not mutually beneficial, so I appreciate you sharing that. Dr. Grivas, do you have anything to add in terms of how patients can take a proactive approach to their healthcare and how they can build this confidence we’ve been talking about and express their concerns to their medical team? 

Dr. Grivas: 

I think Dr. Nyame covered it so well. I think it’s critically important for all of us to recognize that the finding out the why is probably the key to answer those questions, why there is this distrust, why someone is not paying attention so her own health because they have to try to make ends meet and keep family fed during the day time, and they don’t have time to think about their own health as Dr. Nyame mentioned before, at the same time, empowering the patient that they are the center of this relationship. 

Why doesn’t Dr. Nyame go to the clinic in the morning is because of patients, so our training is patient-centered and our practice is patient-centered and our research is patient-centered, so the patient should feel that right from the door, that this is a service to them. And we’re doing what we’re doing to help their life being longer, longer survival, as we call it, or better, better quality of life, and listening to the patient’s needs is important because of the time crunch that Dr. Nyame mentioned before, I think many of us, probably all of us are within situations where we don’t have enough time to listen advocate, what the person have to say, that’s why I think it’s important to have opportunities for separate visits and utilize better other mechanisms, exact mechanisms, patient navigation I think it’s a critical part of our care, social workers, case managers, financial counselors, nutritionist, genetic counselors, looking at genetics in for the disposition to cancer which is much more common than we think occurrences sometimes we be higher in some certain populations. Having this service available to patients, can help a lot because they will give them knowledge, and knowledge is power by itself, so give them the center, we’re here for them. Why they’re here, it’s because we want to help them and giving them also resources, they need to get now let’s information, when they feel they have more knowledge and they feel that they have control, they can communicate back and give feedback of how we can do better and also, what are the priorities of their needs, so we can address those, what matters to the patient, and this can apply to base and care, and also is what questions we’re asking? Research should be defined by patient priority, so all of those factors should be a dialogue with a patient, I think advocacy groups can be a great liaison to help us disseminate this concept and help again, empowering the patients. I struggle believe that explaining the why and giving knowledge, the data points in a simple and lay manner, can patients think being more in control. 

 
Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Absolutely, thank you, both of you. I love the patient-centered focus, that is something that admittedly, we’ve gotten away from that to some degree in medicine because of the time crunches that both of you have mentioned, and I love that you said knowledge is power. So as we close, I’d love for each of you to share maybe a couple of key questions that patients, our care partners facing prostate cancer should ask of their treatment team to ensure that they’re receiving appropriate care. 

So we’ll start with you, Nyame. Any key questions that patients should be asking their care team when they seek treatment or diagnosis of prostate cancer. 

Absolutely, I think that there’s a long list. Actually, I’ll tell you, my new prostate cancer diagnosis visits are usually my longest because there’s a lot to consider. I do think depending on what you’re having done and what you’re being considered for, so let’s say in the localized setting, prostate cancer is confined to the prostate, and you’re thinking about treatment like a surgery or radiation therapy, you really want to know what that center and what that provider’s experience is because we have a lot of supporting evidence that the more people doing this… No one’s going to be surprised by what I’m about to say, but the more that someone does is the better they’re gonna be at it. Okay, and so making sure your team has a good experience with what you’re seeking to have done is important, and I think it’s well within your rights as a patient to understand that, so I think advocate for that. Secondly, I think basic questions, just to understand the relationship, I think… I like it when patients wanna know a little bit about me because I’m gonna be… They’re gonna be in my hands, and so again, the importance of that relationship building and your visit is crucial. 

Lastly, I think when you come to the visit, have a list of questions based off of what you’ve researched and write them down, I find my most sophisticated patients or crossing off questions as I’m talking, ’cause they came prepared and so that preparation… The act of doing a little bit of reading, there are a lot of resources, the Prostate Cancer Foundation, for instance, has a very nice patient guide that’s written by patients and language that’s really digestible and edited by experts, and so going through that and coming with your list of questions, I think is a really important thing for your visit, and those are just a few things I can think of that can lead to a meaningful clinic visit and exchange. 

 
Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Excellent, I’m a huge fan of questions and being prepared for visits, what about you, Dr. Grivas are there one or two key questions that you feel patients or their care partners should ask? 

Dr. Grivas: 

Great answers by Dr. Nyame, I totally agree. I think started with the basics, What this diagnosis means for me, what is the current extent of the cancer, we call the states, and what is the outlook, what is the overall prognosis or at least estimate of the outcome, that’s a reasonable question to ask and again some places more detail, some others may not, and it’s important for us also to ask the base and what they want to know, how much they want to know, I would take in things of them, they want to know the entirety of the information because it makes… Help them make decisions. The other, I think it’s important point, what are the treatment options and what is the intent of the treatment, what are we trying to achieve by giving treatment, are we trying to cure, eradicate or eliminate the culture, are we to prolong life, are we trying to improve quality of life or are we just trying control the cancer, so what are the goals of the treatment and what are the metrics of success, so what will be a successful outcome of that treatment? How do we measure that? And I think it’s also important. 

Two more points, I would if I may. I think, again, going back to the importance of genetic counseling even more in prostate cancer, I think we recognize the importance in the aspect of patient treatment because some treatment options may depend on finding mutations. But also the importance of the family, how much can prevent cancers in the brother family, close and extended family, if we find the mutation, can we set this mutation for other family members and do screening to prevent cancer prevention is ideal if we can do that and I think that’s a good discussion, so the patient can come to the visit if possible, by doing some homework about the family history. It’s hard for of us now, what’s happening in that chasm, right? But we do have the time to be informed of the importance of the question, this can help and expedite in our resources like to genetic counseling. And the last points, research, I want to again make the point, we should all do a better job to offer innovative clinical trials to patients across races, and it should be a very important point again equitable healthcare. And the patient should ask are clinical trials an option for me and do I have a clinical trial option? And I think it’s a great question, and hopefully this can help the patient get to integrative treatment, but also help the field. 

The research would get important answers, and the important answers can be for all the community and the specific populations, if we do trials, clinical trials with only the white patients, do we have the answer for the black patients, or we have the answer for both and other races and ethnicities as well. 

Dr. Nyame: 

And I do wanna take this opportunity to add one more thing because Dr. Grivas was talked about what does your treatment mean for you, and in this discussion about prostate cancer, we cannot talk about what questions do you bring without mentioning the impact, quality of life of our treatments, and I think that sometimes this is the elephant in the room that leads to the decision to not pursue treatment, and so I want to take this opportunity as the urologist to say, This is the time to talk about what treatment is gonna do for sexual function. This is the time to talk about what treatment means for your urinary symptoms and quality of life, a good and healthy discussion around these things need to happen during your visit, because I think sometimes what patients expect to have happen with treatment and reality don’t match. And you have an expert in front of you that can really give you some input as to what to expect, and in a similar vein, when you meet with survivors, these are some of the things that I know patients tell me they’re worried about, and these are people who are living it, that can give you really valuable information on that piece of quality of life, and I hope that those conversations can help us close that treatment disparity that we see between black men and white men with prostate cancer. 

 Dr. Nicole Rochester: 

Such wonderful points. This has been an amazing conversation. Thank you so much, Dr. Nyame and thank you Dr. Grivas for just illuminating so many important issues, just to briefly summarize, we’ve talked about the disparities that exist in prostate cancer, diagnosis and treatment based on geographic location, based on finances, insurance that is access and… Yes, even race and ethnicity, and you all have done a wonderful job providing solutions, we’ve talked about the importance of advocating for yourself and your loved ones, the importance of being educated and doing some research, coming to those visits with your questions, making sure that you form a relationship with your treating physicians and sometimes perhaps seeking someone else, if that’s not possible, so just… So many gems, and I just wanna thank both of you for spending this time with us today, and I wanna thank you all for tuning in to this Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Dr. Nicole Rochester, and thank you for joining us. 

Dr. Grivas: 

Thank you. 

Is MGUS More Prevalent in BIPOC Communities?

Is MGUS More Prevalent in BIPOC Communities? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

Does the multiple myeloma precursor of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) occur more frequently in minority (BIPOC) patients? Expert Dr. Sarah Holstein from the University of Nebraska Medical Center shares information that myeloma studies are researching on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color patients and how to improve myeloma awareness and care.

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Transcript:

Dr. Sarah Holstein:

:  When we look at data sources like the SEER (The Surveillance Epidemiology, and End Results) data source, it’s not necessarily so granular that we can always distinguish whether the population is Black/Hispanic, Black/non-Hispanic, but really where I’ve seen the increased risk is whenever there are population-based studies and they describe the population at least in the U.S. as Black. I will admit I don’t know the details as to further sub-division amongst the category of Black and whether or not it’s appropriate to use the term BIPOC in this setting with respect to why do Black Americans have higher risk of plasma cell disorders than white Americans? I think that’s still a question that we can’t completely answer. There are a lot of really good research teams in this country and really worldwide that are trying to understand the different genetic-based risks, and it’s clear based on some studies that there’s some differential with respect to for example, what the frequency is of particular genetic abnormalities that happen in the plasma cells as they go from normal to abnormal. So, one example that I’ve seen is a higher frequency of translocation 11;14 in patients who are Black compared to patients who are white, but ultimately, I don’t think there’s an easy, easily understood answer to that very complex question right now with respect to why the risk is two to three-fold higher in Black individuals compared to white individuals. 

And then that’s a little bit of a separate—I mean it’s related, but in some ways, and that’s somewhat separate from the issue of when Black individuals actually get diagnosed with myeloma, whether that’s at a more advanced state of the disease than in white people that I think is a little bit more dependent on access to care as well, as knowledge of the disease. I would say that in general, myeloma is not a cancer that most Americans are actually that familiar with, and that’s regardless of white, Black, race or ethnicity, it’s still a relatively rare cancer and most people have never heard of it and don’t know other people who’ve had it. But I think what is key in the Black community is to really increase awareness of not only myeloma, but the precursor condition MGUS just like there have been enormous efforts to increase awareness of the risks of high blood pressure and diabetes, and how that can affect health later on, there’s also… I think sometimes a decreased frequency of access to primary care, sometimes myeloma is picked up just because of routine blood work, and that can be done sometimes on an annual basis by a primary care provider. And if individuals aren’t getting their annual physical and annual labs drawn, then by the time myeloma presents itself, sometimes it’s at the point where it’s presenting, because bad things have happened, like bones are breaking, or patients are very anemic, or there are serious infections, etcetera, as opposed to being found in a more asymptomatic stage when abnormalities such as high protein levels in the blood are noted that patients are otherwise feeling well. So I think you raise some really excellent questions, and I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in this country for not only improving the research so that we understand what the genetic bases are for developing plasma cell disorders, but also increasing education throughout this country, but specifically in the Black population, and then making sure that everybody has access to care.

How Can CLL Patients Mitigate Distance and Technology Barriers to Care?

How Can CLL Patients Mitigate Distance and Technology Barriers to Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) patients overcome barriers to their CLL care like distance, technology, and other challenges? Dr. Kathy Kim from UC Davis School of Medicine details the challenges she’s witnessed for patients and some ways that both patients and providers can help bridge the gaps to optimal patient care.

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Transcript:

Dr. Awan:

So is it going to be financially difficult to let’s say, get an app or download an app, which might have a subscription service, attached to it, so that’s the first question that I might have. And the second question is then, this is something that I run into every day. A lot of my patients are older. Some of my patients live on farms, a couple of hours, three, four hours away from Dallas in a relatively rural area, east or west of us in north Texas, and you know those people may not necessarily have access to broadband, they may not have access to high-speed internet. So, they may not be able to get online, or if they do get online, the connections are not the most perfect, so it’s always, the video is not pretty good, or they frankly, may not know how to operate, they don’t just don’t feel comfortable operating these devices or the tablets or phones, even though they might use them for making calls and texting, but they may not necessarily be very conversing with them or very at ease with them, so are those options really difficult for our patients to use?

Dr. Kim:

Yeah, so you’ve mentioned three really key areas, cost, connectivity, and what I will call digital literacy or digital familiarity, those are really three key areas that we need to address for anyone who wants to use these tools to be able to use them. So, cost is the first thing, most mobile apps are fairly inexpensive, and if you’ve downloaded anything from the Apple Store or the Google Play store, almost everything is free, or a few things might have you know $2.99, $8.99. Some of them do have subscription fees. So, the app itself is probably the least expensive part of it. The more expensive part is, do you have a modern smartphone that can actually, where you can download that up or do you have a modern tablet or a newer laptop that can actually use apps, right? Not just software, but apps, those devices is where the cost really comes in, and you know if you’ve got any kind of device, it’s every couple of years, you have to replace it or upgrade it to kind of keep it up-to-date. So that is definitely a barrier of the cost of the computing device or remote patient monitoring device, and that is where we really need to collaborate in the industry with our hospital systems and our provider systems, with our legislative representatives, with our insurance companies, to provide low-cost access to the devices.

The third thing is connectivity, which is both cost, and it is a cost as well as an accessibility issue, and for most of the uses in healthcare, as you’ve mentioned, we need to be able to do video, we need to be able to connect to the devices for data, and that means we either have to have a cell phone data , a mobile data plan that can run data on your phone or your tablet, or you need a broadband connection in your home, an actual Wi-Fi plan that comes installed. You need one or the other. And again, either of those options are quite expensive, if you do video visits, it can really eat up your bandwidth if you’re on a low band, low bandwidth plan or you’re paying for the minute or by the bit. It can become very expensive, so we have to have a cost-effective plan available to people, and again, there’s lots of policies or proposals, to be submitted both at the state level, and there are federal programs that are actually now subsidizing. So specifically, under COVID, provider organizations can apply to the federal government for special funds to offer telehealth help to patients, so many providers have bought tablets or other remote patient monitoring devices or things like that, that they can give out to patients.

Which brings us to the third thing that you mentioned, which is digital familiarity or digital literacy. We have to help people learn how to use these. So even if you use a cell phone, it’s different using a smartphone, right? The apps are different, the navigation is different, how you touch your screen is different, how these applications actually work, and how to get the data from your own device to a provider, to your doctor is a whole another set of skills, right? Do you have to pair these devices, do you have to register an account and have a password? Do you have to approve your doctor to get access, there’s all these questions about how you would actually do all this and this is where organizations like Patient Empowerment Network, that I know does a lot of effort to help patients more how to use technology, as well as the research that we have been doing at UC Davis in the community about how to support patients overcome all these barriers becomes really critical, we have to actually work together to make sure all three of these issues are addressed so that everybody can have access.