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Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

 At what point should a clinical trial be an option for myeloma treatment? Dr. Joshua Richter shares his perspective on the appropriate time to weigh clinical trial participation and the potential benefits.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

When should a clinical trial be considered for myeloma treatment?

Dr. Richter:

So, clinical trials are an extremely important component of how we manage myeloma. And I think there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about trials. Trials are not always things to do after everything else failed. From my standpoint, at every point along the way, we should always consider clinical trials, because they offer something really amazing. They offer us access to drugs way before they’re approved.

And the benefit of not waiting until the end, after you’ve been through everything else, is two-fold. One, in order to get on a trial, you need to fit certain criteria, inclusion, and exclusion criteria. You need to have myeloma, but you can’t be so sick from other medical problems that you’re not going to tolerate that treatment well. As such, unfortunately, some patients after they’ve been through all the other therapies may not qualify for a clinical trial, and that can be really upsetting.

The other benefit of doing a clinical trial early on is if you go on a new drug and it doesn’t work, you have all of the other standard of care options available at a moment’s notice. But if it does work and you gain access to a drug way before it’s approved, and it happens to work extremely well in you, you can have an unbelievably long remission and still have all of the drugs that are available. And, potentially, in that time on the drug, new standard of care drugs are approved. It even deepens the well that you can reach into to grab more options. So, at all times along the way, it’s always important to weigh the risks and benefits of what we call standard of care treatment versus clinical trial options.

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When deciding on a myeloma treatment, what factors affect your choice? Dr. Joshua Richter shares key considerations, the patient role in making decisions, as well as key questions to ask about treatment

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Which Myeloma Patients Should Consider Stem Cell Transplant?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

Dr. Richter, would you please start by introducing yourself?

Dr. Richter:

Sure, my name is Dr. Joshua Richter. I’m an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Tisch Cancer Institute Icon School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and the Director of Myeloma at The Blavatnik Family Medical Center at Chelsea at Mount Sinai.

Katherine:

Great. Thank you. When making a treatment choice, what are three key considerations for myeloma patients?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. So, whenever we decide on treatment options, we consider three main topics: patient-related factors, disease-related factors, and treatment-related factors. So, patient-related factors are easy. How old or young are you? How fit or frail? Do you have any comorbidities, meaning other medical problems like heart disease or diabetes?

Disease-related factors are another important one. How aggressive is your disease? Is it rising up very quickly? Is it very slowly? Do you have something that we call extramedullary disease which means myeloma outside the bone marrow in the mass that we call a plasmacytoma? And that influences how we treat things.

And the last is treatment-related factors. What treatments have you, previously, had, how did you respond to them, and what side effects did you have?

If you developed a lot of neuropathy with one drug, we may not want to choose a drug that continues to have that type of side effect profile.

Katherine:

What’s the role as a patient in making treatment decisions?

Dr. Richter:

The role, from my standpoint of the patient, is honesty. You don’t get extra points for being in pain. I want to hear from you. I want you to tell me what your concerns are, short-term, long-term. I want you to tell me about little problems that you don’t – it’s not that you don’t want to bother your care team, we want to know.

Because something little may mean something big to us. So, all we want is for your well-being. And the better we keep those lines of communication open, the better.

Katherine:

Are there questions that patients should consider asking about their treatment plans?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. I think in a day and age where there’s so many different options, I think it’s always important to ask the care provider, what are the alternatives to this? Or why did you select this treatment for me? Because many times, there are alternative answers. So, in myeloma, there are a lot of options that may be good for someone. And the physician team may say we recommend this drug, and the patient may have trouble getting back and forth to clinic for logistical reasons. And there may be an all-oral alternative that if you don’t ask, we may not know that that’s going to be your preference. So, really that dialog is crucial.

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis?

What Standard Testing Follows a Myeloma Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo

What tests will you have following a myeloma diagnosis? Are there additional tests you should request? Dr. Joshua Richter provides an overview of key testing for myeloma and why each test is necessary.

Dr. Joshua Richter is director of Multiple Myeloma at the Blavatnik Family – Chelsea Medical Center at Mount Sinai. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Medicine in The Tisch Cancer Institute, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Learn more about Dr. Richter, here.

See More From INSIST! Myeloma


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Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe for Myeloma Patients?


Transcript:

Katherine:

What standard testing follows a myeloma diagnosis?

Dr. Richter:

So, the standard testing that follows a myeloma diagnosis is multifaceted. So, the first one is blood work. And we draw a lot of blood tests to look at the bad protein that the cancer cells make. So, we send tests like a protein electrophoresis which tells us how high that bad protein is. We send immunofixation. That test tells us what type of bad protein it is. You’ll hear names like IgG kappa and IgA lambda.

These are the different types of bad proteins made by myeloma cells. Oftentimes, we’ll send urine tests to find out how much of that bad protein that was in the blood is coming out in the urine. We will, typically, do a bone marrow biopsy. It’s a test where we put a needle into the back of the hip bone to look at the marrow itself. And we’ll use that marrow to figure out how much myeloma there is, any other characteristics like the genetic changes in those cells.

The other big thing is imaging. So, the classic imaging that we do with myeloma is something called a skeletal survey. It’s, basically, a listing of X-rays from head to toe. But nowadays, we have newer techniques, things like whole body low-dose CAT scans, something called a PET-CT scan, and MRI scans. And your care team may have to figure out which one is right for you at what given time.

Katherine:

Mm-hmm. Are there additional tests that patients should ask for?

Dr. Richter:

Absolutely. One of the most important things from myeloma has to do with the genetic risk stratification.

So, for almost all cancers, the staging has a very big impact. And people will often think of cancer in stages I, II, III, and IV, and they’re managed very differently depending upon what stage it is. Myeloma has three stages, stage I, II, and III. But the most important thing is, actually, beyond the staging is what’s called the cytogenetics risk stratification. So, it’s really important when the bone marrow is sent to be sure that it is sent for, kind of, advanced techniques. Because you really want that snapshot of exactly what the genetic profile is, because that gives us information of A) how to treat, and B) prognostic, you know, who will tend to do better or worse based on this information. And even though that may not tell us which drugs to use, specifically, it may say, should we do something like a transplant or not? Should we consider a clinical trial early or not?

Katherine:

I see. How do test results affect treatment choices?

Dr. Richter:

So, test results can affect treatment choices in a number of ways. Probably, the most common one is thinking about the routine blood tests like your CBC or complete blood count and your chemistry, which looks at things like your kidney function. Some drugs tend to have more toxicity to the blood counts. So, if your blood counts are very low, we may choose drugs that don’t lower the blood counts very much.

Kidney function which we, usually, measure by something called the creatinine. Creatinine is made by the muscles and cleared out by the kidneys. So, if your kidneys aren’t working very well, you don’t pee out creatinine, and that creatinine level will rise in the blood. If your creatinine level is high, we may choose certain drugs that don’t affect the kidneys or not metabolized or broken down by the kidneys.

The genetic studies that we use – we’re not quite at this base yet where we can say, if you have this genetic abnormality in your myeloma, we should use this drug except there’s some really great data on the cutting edge about a drug called venetoclax.

Venetoclax is a pill that’s used to treat other diseases like lymphoma and leukemia. And it turns out that people who have what’s called a translocation (11:14) which means part of the 11th chromosome and part of the 14th chromosome in the cancer cells swap material.

Those people respond amazingly well to venetoclax. So, we’re starting to have what we would call precision medicine where we find your genetic abnormalities, not that you got from your parents or passed to your kids, but the genetics inside the tumor cells to tell us which treatments will work best for you.

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment

What You Need to Know Before Choosing a Cancer Treatment from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

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What steps could help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment path for your specific cancer? This animated video explains how identification of unique features of a specific cancer through biomarker testing could impact prognosis, treatment decisions and enable patients to get the best, most personalized cancer care.


If you are viewing this from outside of the US, please be aware that availability of personalized care and therapy may differ in each country. Please consult with your local healthcare provider for more information.


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TRANSCRIPT:

Dr. Jones:

Hi! I’m Dr. Jones and I’m an oncologist and researcher. I specialize in the care and treatment of patients with cancer. 

Today we’re going to talk about the steps to accessing personalized care and the best therapy for YOUR specific cancer. And that begins with something called biomarker testing.

Before we start, I want to remind you that this video is intended to help educate cancer patients and their loved ones and shouldn’t be a replacement for advice from your doctor.

Let’s start with the basics–just like no two fingerprints are exactly alike, no two patients’ cancers are exactly the same. For instance, let’s meet Louis and another patient of mine, Ben. They both have the same type of cancer and were diagnosed around the same time–but when looked at up close, their cancers look very different.  And, therefore, should be treated differently.

We can look more closely at the cancer type using biomarker testing, which checks for specific gene mutations, proteins, chromosomal abnormalities and/or other molecular changes that are unique to an individual’s disease.

Sometimes called molecular testing or genomic testing, biomarker testing can be administered in a number of ways, such as via a blood test or biopsy. The way testing is administered will depend on YOUR specific situation.

The results could help your healthcare team understand how your cancer may behave and to help plan treatment. And, it may indicate whether targeted therapy might be right for you. When deciding whether biomarker testing is necessary, your doctor will also take into consideration the stage of your cancer at diagnosis.

Louis:

Right! My biomarker testing results showed that I had a specific gene mutation and that my cancer may respond well to targeted therapy.

Dr. Jones, Can you explain how targeted therapy is different than chemo?

Dr. Jones:

Great question! Over the past several years, research has advanced quickly in developing targeted therapies, which has led to more effective options and better outcomes for patients.

Chemotherapy is still an important tool for cancer treatment, and it works by affecting a cancer cell’s ability to divide and grow. And, since cancer cells typically grow faster than normal cells, chemotherapy is more likely to kill cancer cells.

Targeted therapy, on the other hand, works by blocking specific mutations and preventing cancer cells from growing and dividing.

These newer therapies are currently being used to treat many blood cancers as well as solid tumor cancers.  As you consider treatments, it’s important to have all of the information about your diagnosis, including biomarker testing results, so that you can discuss your treatment options and goals WITH your healthcare team.

Louis:

Exactly–Dr. Jones made me feel that I had a voice in my treatment decision. We discussed things like potential side effects, what the course of treatment looks like and how it may affect my lifestyle.

When meeting with your healthcare team, insist that all of your questions are answered. Remember, this is YOUR life and it’s important that you feel comfortable and included when making care decisions. 

Dr. Jones:

And, if you don’t feel your voice is being heard, it may be time to consider a second—or third—opinion from a doctor who specializes in the type of cancer you have. 

So how can you use this information to access personalized treatment?

First, remember, no two cancers are the same. What might be right for someone else’s cancer may not work for you.

Next! Be sure to ask if biomarker testing is appropriate for your diagnosis. Then, discuss all test results with your provider before making a treatment decision. And ask whether testing will need to be repeated over time to identify additional biomarkers.

Your treatment choice should be a shared decision with your healthcare team. Discuss what your options and treatment goals are with your doctor.

And, last, but not least, it’s important to inquire about whether a targeted therapy, or a clinical trial, might be appropriate for you. Clinical trials may provide access to promising new treatments.

Louis:

All great points, Dr. Jones! We hope you can put this information to work for you. Visit powerfulpatients.org to learn more tips for advocating for yourself.

Dr. Jones:

Thanks for joining us today. 


This program is supported by Blueprint Medicines, and through generous donations from people like you.

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate for the Best Care?

 

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate for the Best Care? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Peter Forsberg shares advice for myeloma patients on why it’s important to speak up about symptoms and side effects, how to become a better partner in their care, and the role of a second opinion.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You Resource Guide

What Should You Know About Myeloma Treatment Options?

What Should You Know About Myeloma Treatment Options?

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What is some key advice that you give patients when they’re considering their treatment options?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Well, I think one important one is to always feel comfortable communicating with your provider. I think that there no by the book questions, list of questions, that’re the right questions to ask. I think the more important thing is trying to establish a good working relationship with your treatment team. Myeloma is much more of a marathon than it is a sprint. So, getting comfortable with your team, getting comfortable with a relationship and a partnership that can be often many years in duration, are really critical steps.

So, I think laying that foundation, feeling comfortable asking questions, trying to understand why. Understand how and what are tools to monitor what the myeloma will be and what indicates success or a need for something else. Those would all be critical pieces that I would encourage patients to feel empowered to be part of.

Katherine:                  

Patients can sometimes feel like they’re bothering their healthcare team with the comments and the questions. So, why is it important for patients to speak up when it comes to their symptoms and side effects?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Well, I think feeling comfortable being vocal about what’s going on is one of the key issues to navigating myeloma successfully. Being aware of issues, even if they may seem minor or insignificant, they may be an indicator for something that is emerging in terms of a treatment related side effect that we wanna be aware of. There are treatment side effects that we are willing to work through. But it can be very broad in terms of the spectrum of how we maneuver through different side effects.

And additionally, we always want to be aware of any issues that may be going on that could be a sign for what’s happening with the myeloma. So, trying to be vocal. Not only to understand what’s going on, what our treatments are, how successful are we at any given point in time, where things stand. But also, to make sure that you are putting things on your provider’s radar are key. So, lots of folks want to be good and compliant patients and we certainly appreciate that hope. But being assertive in terms of issues that may be coming up or questions that you may have, can really make for a much more successful long-term relationship in terms of how we manage the myeloma.

Katherine:                  

Well, do you have suggestions on how a patient could feel more confident in speaking up and becoming a partner in their care?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Well, certainly using tools like, if you found your way to this material, I think is a great first step.

Becoming a little bit more versed in the myeloma, in the language of the myeloma, what these tests that we use are. What their results might be. Using a number of great patient specific organizations are great first steps. So, being proactive about learning, to some degree about the myeloma. And then feeling comfortable asking that first questions. Once you begin the process of unlocking the myeloma and demystifying what it is and what these tests mean and where we stand, then that can really build on itself and allow folks to feel more in control of their myeloma and their myeloma journey.

Katherine:                  

And if a patient isn’t feeling confident with their treatment plan or their care, do you recommend that they seek a second opinion or consult a specialist?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Well, I never think it’s a bad idea to think about a second opinion or seeing a myeloma specialist. Even if you feel very comfortable with your treatment plan. Myeloma’s a unique disease and our approaches for it may be somewhat different, person to person.

And your needs as a myeloma patient my change and they may change somewhat abruptly. So, having seen someone who specializes in myeloma as part of your care team, and usually it is a care team. And there’s different models we sometimes work with in terms of both local or primary oncologists, as well as more specialized academic oncologists. We’re used to working through all sorts of models to provide the best possible care for patients. So, I never think it’s a bad idea to ask about that. Because having that more robust team is usually mostly benefit without adding a lot of headache. 

Is My Myeloma Treatment Working?

Is My Myeloma Treatment Working? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

How can a myeloma patient know if their treatment is working? Dr. Peter Forsberg explains tests involved in determining if myeloma treatment is effective and factors that may indicate that it’s time to switch therapies.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

Download Program Resource Guide

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

What Key Tests Should Follow a Myeloma Diagnosis?

What Key Tests Should Follow a Myeloma Diagnosis?

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You Resource Guide

Transcript:

Katherine:                        

Once a patient has started treatment, how do you know if it’s working?

Dr. Forsberg:              

So, we’re lucky in myeloma in that we have some pretty easily accessible tools to evaluate how our response is going. How the myeloma is responding to treatment. How we’re sustaining that response and if we may be losing it at some point in time. And a lot of those come down to those blood tests I mentioned before.

The tools that measure protein levels or antibody levels in the blood, whether that’s intact antibodies or fragments of antibodies. So, that is that serum protein electrophoresis or serum free light chain levels.

Sometimes in conjunction with urine collections, which can measure abnormal antibodies in the urine. Those are ways that we can monitor on a month-to-month basis, how well the myeloma is responding to treatment. How well we are sustaining in a response or remission status. Or if it might be starting to come back.

We do at times use those in conjunction with other tests that look at things like bones using X-rays, MRIs or higher resolution scans like a PET scan. Or things like bone marrow biopsies which we may do at specific time points to evaluate the myeloma in different ways.

Whether that’s to evaluate a remission and see how deep that response might be, correlating it with blood work. Or if the myeloma come back, making sure we understand the characteristics of it. So, we’re lucky to be able to draw on tools that are not very invasive using bloodwork and sometimes urine. But we may couple that at certain other points in time with more substantial evaluations as well.

Katherine:                  

What could indicate that it’s time to switch therapies?

Dr. Forsberg:              

So, the most common indicator may be a change in one of those tests that I just mentioned. If we notice that there’s an increasing level of an abnormal antibody in the blood, one that’s usually produced by the myeloma, that may be our first indicator that the myeloma has become more active and that we need to change our treatment approaches. Other times people may develop symptoms from the myeloma that shows that it is becoming active and those would be our indicators. So, those are different ways that we help to monitor the myeloma. One is assessing the bloodwork and other things that we monitor pretty closely.

The other is being vigilant for new problems that may come out. So, we end up spending a lot of time with folks over the years with the myeloma and some of that may feel a bit routine, but we’re always trying to make sure that we’re attentive to new issues as they come up.

Myeloma Treatment Options: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In?

Myeloma Treatment Options: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Peter Forsberg discusses how clinical trials help improve care for myeloma patients and shares advice to patients who are fearful about joining a trial.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

Download Program Resource Guide

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

Is My Myeloma Treatment Working?

Is My Myeloma Treatment Working?

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate for the Best Care?

 

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate for the Best Care?

Transcript:

Katherine:                        

Where do clinical trials fit in as a treatment choice?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, I do clinical trials in myeloma, I am certainly an advocate for the important role of clinical trials in myeloma. It is how we learn more about how best to treat patients. So, clinical trials are the foundation on which our decision-making has been built and continues to be refined. We are at a place where clinical trials don’t mean one thing. There are different types of clinical trials. Different stages of trials. Some that may be what we call, early phase that’re looking at brand new medicines or medicines in entirely different ways.

And ones that are late phase, where they may be comparing a well validated standard of care, versus a new approach. So, understanding what the potential clinical trial is and what that entails and what its goals are, are an important factor for patients as they consider participating. But beyond that, trials are a really critical area for us to evaluate new therapies and to get better at using the medicines we have in novel or improved ways.

So, they can be a really useful piece for not only the myeloma community, but for patients as they navigate through. So, I haven’t had many patients who I take care of who participated in clinical trials and been disappointed that they did so. Usually, it’s a positive experience.

Even if it is one where you want to understand what you may be embarking upon as you begin the process.

Katherine:                  

Some patients can be fearful when it comes to clinical trials. What would you say to someone who might be hesitant to consider participating in one?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Well, like I said, I would say that one of the most important things is making sure you understand what the goal of the trial is. What it entails. Clinical trials may have one name, but they’re very different things. And the right type of trial may be very different in different clinical circumstances. So, feeling comfortable with what it is. Making sure you feel comfortable asking your provider what the rationale for the trial is.

But also, as I mentioned, trials are a unique process and one that can often be very fulfilling for patients. Understanding that not only may you be trying a new treatment approach, but that you’re hoping to contribute to our improvement for how we manage multiple myeloma. It’s an altruistic goal. But it can be one that can be pretty meaningful for patients if they’re comfortable moving in that direction.

What Should You Know About Myeloma Treatment Options?

What Should You Know About Myeloma Treatment Options? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Peter Forsberg outlines options in the myeloma treatment toolkit, including targeted therapies, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and combination approaches —and explains how the recovery process from stem cell transplant has improved.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

Download Program Resource Guide

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

Myeloma Treatment Options: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In?

Myeloma Treatment Options: Where Do Clinical Trials Fit In?

Essential Imaging Tests After a Myeloma Diagnosis

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You Resource Guide

Transcript:

Katherine:                        

Would you walk us through the currently available myeloma treatment approaches and who they might be right for?

Dr. Forsberg:             

At this point, we’re lucky that we have a much broader toolkit to treat myeloma than we have had in the past. Myeloma is one of the successes in modern oncology in that way. At this point, we have a number of targeted therapies. Some of those are pill-based options, some are injections or infusional medicines. We have some immunotherapies, which are things like monoclonal antibodies, which help to work.

We use some conventional or older fashioned chemotherapy, often lower doses and as part of combinations. And steroids. Steroids are always the medicine that is one of the backbones of our combinations. In myeloma, we do often use combinations. So, it’s usually a mixture of targeted therapies. Sometimes immunotherapies or chemotherapies.

As well as steroids to try to treat the myeloma. And some of the considerations are, which combination makes the most sense. Are there other medical problems or disease related factors like disease aggressiveness that may influence which ones we wanna choose or how many. Also, is a three-drug combination the right fit or is a four or a two drug the right. And it does continue to evolve.

Our options and our ability to use multi-agent regimens has continued to improve as we’ve gotten better and better therapies that’re well tolerated and that allow us to use really active combinations, even in patients who may have substantial other medical problems. So, I think it’s been something that continues to evolve over time and will continue to evolve. But the good news is that it’s been an issue of just how to incorporate more and better options.

How do we bring these good new tools into the mix as early as is appropriate? To control the myeloma in really substantial ways. And again, as I mentioned, the question of the role of stem cell transplant continues to be an important one. That is a way for us to still use older fashioned chemotherapy at a high dose to help to achieve a more durable remission. But usually, the way that we parse through these targeted immunotherapies and chemotherapies, is something that may be individual.

Although, we have some broad principals that help guide us for how we manage patients across different types.

Katherine:                  

How do you decide who stem cell transplant might be right for?

Dr. Forsberg:             

The good news in the United States is that we’re able to be fairly broad in terms of our consideration of stem cell transplant. There is no age restriction above which it’s not. We’ve gotten better and better at supporting patients through stem cell transplant. We have better medicines to deal with potential toxicities. And so, patients do better and better in going through transplant. But it is still an intensive treatment modality. So, in considering it, it is an option for a large portion of myeloma patients at diagnosis. After we get the myeloma under control. But the decision remains an individual one. Some patients may prefer to defer stem cell transplant until a second line therapy or later.

Whereas others feel very comfortable moving forward with it in the first-line setting. I would say that it is certainly something that we try to demystify for patients. It can sound a little bit intimidating, certainly because it is a little more intense and requires more support. But it is something that we have gotten quite good at navigating patient and supporting them through.

Katherine:                  

What about maintenance therapy, how does that fit in?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Following initial treatments to get the myeloma under control, whether that includes stem cell transplant or not. Usually we transition into a maintenance therapy. Maintenance therapy is a way for us to sustain control or remission of the myeloma. And make that longer lived. So, what we use for maintenance may be different patient to patient. But it is a important part of our treatment approach for many patients.

Katherine:                  

Are some therapies less intense than others, and what are some possible side effects of those?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, certainly there are treatments with varying degrees of intensity or potential toxicities. The good news is that as we’ve gained more and more treatment options, we’ve also gotten better at using the ones we have had for a while now to minimize some of their toxicities. So, by adjusting dosing schedule and routes of administration, we’ve gotten better at fine tuning the tools we have toward minimizing those toxicities.

So truthfully, many myeloma patients after you start treatment, actually feel better than before they started chemotherapy because the myeloma itself is a destructive process and the treatments are quite often well tolerated. That being said, certainly over time, treatment related side effects often emerge. Some of the treatment toxicities may cause some challenges in terms of managing patients through their myeloma process. But usually, those can be overcome. Even if that means needing to adjust the treatment protocol.

Adjust doses, change medicines. And so, while there are varying degrees of intensity, we’re usually able to find the right balance for any given patient to still have a very active anti-myeloma regimen while trying to be very cognizant of potential treatment toxicities and taking steps to mitigate that.

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Peter Forsberg shares his perspective on how patients fit into the shared decision-making process and their role in helping move treatment forward in a timely manner.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

Download Program Resource Guide

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

How Targeted Therapy Works to Treat Myeloma

Myeloma Targeted Therapy: Why Identifying Chromosomal Abnormalities Is Key

Transcript:

Katherine:                        

What do you feel is the patient’s role in the decision, and how does shared decision making come into play?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, I think it’s always a really important piece of the puzzle to be a part of the decision-making process. Myeloma can be a challenging disease to understand. There are some pretty significant nuances in terms of what our treatment options are and what our goals may be.

So, I think having a patient who is involved in that process, who is actively asking questions. Engaging their provider if something doesn’t make sense. If our goal is not clear. Trying to make sure that you ask that. As oncologists, a lot of what we do involves communication and trying to help bridge gaps between our understanding of diseases and treatments and what patients see and feel and understand.

So, I think it’s really a critical piece of it for patients to ask questions, to engage. Now, I will say that one of the important things is often when the myeloma is newly diagnosed, we do need to move into treatment in a relatively timely manner. So, engaging with that process, being ready to move forward is our key component.

 

Debunking Common Myeloma Misconceptions

 

Debunking Common Myeloma Misconceptions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma expert Dr. Peter Forsberg discusses common misconceptions about the disease and explains who may have an increased risk for developing myeloma.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

Essential Tests & Imaging After a Myeloma Diagnosis

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate for the Best Care?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

What Is the Patient’s Role in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

Are there common misconceptions you hear when you see a new myeloma patient for the first time?

Dr. Forsberg:             

Yeah, I think some of the more common questions that come up involve those questions like I mentioned about things like stage and understanding this unique characteristic to myeloma. Myeloma unfortunately remains an incurable disease in the year 2020. So, some of the questions come up regarding what prognosis or treatment approaches may entail. Certainly, going to not up-to-date sources can lead to a lot of misconceptions about what our options are and what our outlook might be for myeloma.

And certainly at times, patients wonder where the myeloma came from. Is there something that I did or that I was exposed to that was a real driver for me to develop this? That’s a really common question that comes up. And unfortunately, or fortunately, the answer is not really any that we know well about. So, let me rephrase. So, one question that comes up a lot is what may have caused the myeloma.

Is there something that someone did or was exposed to that drove the myeloma? And truthfully, at this point there aren’t a lot of drivers for myeloma that we know about. So, usually that’s something that can be a little hard to understand or to reconcile. But it is a type of disease that can, unfortunately, can affect anyone. It does get more common as people get older. But aside from some potential genetic impact or mild increased risk in family members and with certain ethnic groups. Not a lot of historical things that were done might drive the development of myeloma.

How Do Myeloma Test Results Guide Prognosis and Treatment?

How Do Myeloma Test Results Guide Prognosis and Treatment? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma specialist Dr. Peter Forsberg explains how myeloma test results help in assessing the disease stage and prognosis, and how identification of chromosomal abnormalities may aid in treatment decisions.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

Download Program Resource Guide

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

Why Myeloma Patients Should Speak Up: Advice from a Nurse Practitioner

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What’s Right for You Resource Guide

Myeloma Targeted Therapy: Why Identifying Chromosomal Abnormalities Is Key

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What do the results of these tests tell us about prognosis and treatment choices?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, the tests that we do are important in terms of understanding some degree how aggressive the myeloma may be or what the prognosis may be. One of the most common or challenging things to break through when diagnosing myeloma or learning about your myeloma is that it’s a little different than other types of cancer. Unlike other cancers that’re more common, stage in myeloma is very different than it is in breast cancer or lung cancer or things that people may have more experience with. In myeloma, everybody has systemic disease.

That’s a part of the diagnosis of myeloma. It means it’s a body-wide condition. So, being stage I or II or III is very different than what it might be in other diseases where that has a huge prognostic impact and also, really shapes what treatment might be. In myeloma, we do use blood tests and chromosomal changes to help us assign a stage to the myeloma, which may tell us about how aggressive the myeloma may be over time.

But our treatment approaches tend to be pretty similar, even for people regardless of their stage. So, our goals are always to get patients’ myeloma under control and maintain it there. So, treatment ends up overlapping pretty substantially. Regardless of what those in initial tests are that stratify potential disease aggressiveness. That being said, there are some ways that we do adjust treatment potentially in patients that we see evidence of potentially more aggressive disease or less. And that might be ways that we amplify treatment regiments, adding extra medicines or using maintenance approaches that’re a little more robust to try to help overcome those high-risk features.

Katherine:                  

What about the significance of chromosomal abnormalities?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, chromosomal abnormalities are part of some of those staging systems. They’re included in what we call our revised international staging system, as well as just being part of our routine risk assessment.

To try to understand myeloma. So, in myeloma, at this point those genetic changes or chromosomal changes don’t necessarily drive specific treatment choices except in that they may stratify how aggressive disease could be and may be informative in that regard.

What Key Tests Should Follow a Myeloma Diagnosis?

 

What Key Tests Should Follow a Myeloma Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What are the key tests that should take place following a multiple myeloma diagnosis? Dr. Peter Forsberg details the appropriate tests, including imaging and blood tests, that may aid in assessing the risk and informing treatment options.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

Essential Tests & Imaging After a Myeloma Diagnosis

How Do Myeloma Test Results Guide Prognosis and Treatment?

How Do Myeloma Test Results Guide Prognosis and Treatment?

What Are Key Factors in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

What Are Key Factors in Myeloma Treatment Decisions?

Transcript:

Katherine:                  

What testing should take place following a myeloma diagnosis?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, after a patient is diagnosed with myeloma, or with suspected myeloma, a number of tests take place to both understand the myeloma. Get some sense for how aggressive the myeloma might be and understand what may be being caused by the myeloma at any given time. So, that involves a number of blood tests. It involves checking urine, doing at least one 24-hour collection of urine. Doing imaging, tests to look at the skeleton or different areas of the body for myeloma involvement.

And a bone marrow biopsy and what’s called an aspirate.

So, all those tests together are used to help confirm myeloma, to understand what’s going on with it and then to understand some of the characteristics of it that might be important over time.

Some of the more complicated tests when people are initially diagnosed with myeloma to get their head around are some pretty important blood tests that we monitor pretty closely.

Things called the serum protein electrophoresis and serum light chain assays. And basically, those are tools that help us measure antibodies. Myeloma is a disease; it comes from cells that make antibodies or fragments of antibodies. And by measuring those, we can understand the myeloma, we can give it some names. And then we can also measure it over time. So, those can seem a little bit impenetrable to patients when they’re first diagnosed, but they’re pretty important for patients and for people treating the myeloma to understand where the myeloma stands and how things are going.

Katherine:                  

What about genetic testing?

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, the main way that we use genetic testing in multiple myeloma is through something called, cytogenetics. And cytogenetics is a way for us to evaluate chromosomes. Chromosomes are in cells and that’s where genetic material is contained. And in myeloma, some of the main vents that drive myeloma cells to change from normal plasma cells come through changes in chromosomes.

And so, those chromosome changes that can be detected with different tests, sometimes they’re called karyotyping or what’s called FISH can give us a sense for some of the changes that may drive the myeloma or have driven it in the first place.

What is Multiple Myeloma?

 

What is Multiple Myeloma? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What is multiple myeloma exactly? Dr. Peter Forsberg defines myeloma, explaining how it affects bone marrow, and shares details about myeloma statistics and treatment in the U.S.

Dr. Peter Forsberg is assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and is a specialist in multiple myeloma. More about Dr. Forsberg here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources

Why Myeloma Patients Should Speak Up: Advice from a Nurse Practitioner

How Can Myeloma Patients Advocate for the Best Care?

Debunking Common Myeloma Misconceptions

Transcript:

Dr. Forsberg:             

So, multiple myeloma is a blood cancer. It comes from cells that live in your bone marrow called plasma cells. They’re part of your immune system. And when they do their job, they help protect you from infections.

They’re antibody producing cells. In myeloma, unfortunately something changes in those cells and they begin to grow and live beyond what they normally would. So, myeloma is a disease that results from that and when myeloma is diagnosed, it’s usually because those plasma cells or the antibody they produce has started to cause problems, to cause destructive changes or symptoms. So, that’s multiple myeloma.

And it’s maybe a little more common than people sometimes think. It’s got an unusual name, so most folks haven’t really heard of myeloma when they’re diagnosed with it. But it is the 14th most common cancer and there are about 30,000 cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. and at this point, more than 150,000 people living with myeloma. And that’s because more and more people are living with myeloma all the time. Advancements in treatment have made people live longer and live better with myeloma.

Navigating Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions

Navigating Lung Cancer Treatment Decisions from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

What steps could help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment path for your individual disease? This animated video walks through key considerations, including molecular testing results, lifestyle factors and patient preference.

See More From the The Pro-Active Lung Cancer Patient Toolkit

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Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? Why You Should Seek a Second Opinion

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Diagnosed with Lung Cancer? An Expert Outlines Key Steps


Transcript:

Hi, I’m Kendra. I’m a nurse practitioner and I specialize in lung cancer.

When diagnosed with lung cancer, it’s important to take steps to get a deeper understanding of your disease, and the available treatment options, so that you can feel confident in your care decisions.

Before we walk through the actions that can help you decide on a treatment path, I want to remind you that this video is intended to help educate lung cancer patients and their loved ones and shouldn’t be a replacement for advice from your doctor.

OK, let’s get started.

The first step is to understand your diagnosis—including the type of lung cancer and stage of disease—so that you can find out what treatments are available to you. Your physician will use tests, including biopsies and imaging, such as X-rays and CT scans, to ensure you have an accurate diagnosis.

The next step is to understand the approaches available for YOUR individual disease.
Depending on your stage and type of lung cancer, treatments can include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy or
  • Immunotherapy

Or, you may receive a combination of one or more of these treatments.

Other testing that can impact your treatment options is molecular testing, which is used to identify specific mutations that are unique to your lung cancer. This may help in deciding if targeted therapies are an appropriate option for you.

Before you start any treatment, it’s essential to ask your doctor if you have had relevant molecular testing.

Another option that your physician may discuss with you is clinical trials, which may provide access to treatments that are not yet approved. At different points on your path with lung cancer, it’s important to talk with your doctor about whether there is a clinical trial that could be right for you.

Once you understand the treatments that are available to you, it’s time to talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of each option and walk through the goals of your treatment.

One of the most important factors that your healthcare team will consider is YOUR treatment goals. Remember, you are a partner in your care and have an active voice in finding the best treatment for you. Physicians also typically consider a patient’s age, overall health, and existing conditions before they suggest a course.

So, what questions should you address when you are discussing your treatment goals with your doctor? Consider asking:

  • Is the goal of the treatment to cure your disease or to obtain long-term control your disease?
  • How effective will the treatment be and how will it impact your quality of life and lifestyle?
  • What are the treatment side effects–both the short-term effects as well as long-term effects that may occur after you have completed treatment?
  • Is there a member of the team, such as a social worker, that can help you understand the potential treatment costs? And is there access to financial resources that can help you if needed?
  • Are there supportive care options that can help with symptoms and pain management at any stage of your cancer?

It also may be a good idea to consider a second, or even third opinion consultation with a specialist. And, if you don’t feel supported or you don’t feel heard by your healthcare team, then it is always best to get another opinion.

Finally, once you have gathered all the information, it may be helpful to talk it out with people you trust, such as a partner, friend or family member, to help you make a decision that you feel confident about.

Now, how can you put this information to work for you?

  • Make sure you understand your type and stage of your lung cancer and the goals of your treatment options.
  • Talk to your physician about what you’ve learned.
  • Consider a consultation with a lung cancer specialist.
  • Ask about molecular testing and what testing results mean for you.
  • Discuss whether clinical trials are an option for your cancer.
  • Visit credible online resources to stay up to date on lung cancer information.
  • Visit powerfulpatients.org/lungcancer to learn more about lung cancer.

What Does It Mean To Be An Empowered Patient?

The term “patient empowerment” is among the top buzzwords in health care circles, but as with many buzzwords, they can mean different things to different people.  The term is most often used to emphasize the value of having patients assert greater control over their health and health care.  WHO defines empowerment as “a process through which people gain greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health” (WHO 1998).  This shift is due in large part to the use of technology that facilitates increased patient access to information via the Internet, peer-to-peer sharing, consumer health devices, and mobile apps.

In a recent Twitter chat, I set out to explore what it means to be an empowered patient today.  The global participation of those who shared their views on the topic shows that patient empowerment is something of universal interest.

Seven Essential Components of Patient Empowerment

1. Information

Information is fundamental to the process of patient empowerment.  Rare disease advocate and parent, Anne Lawlor (@22Q11_Ireland) believes that “an informed educated parent is an empowered one.”  Patients make the best decisions when armed with the right information.  To make genuinely informed decisions about our treatment we must have access to the relevant information needed to make those decisions. “Being informed is key to empowerment for me,” says specialist palliative care social worker, Deirdre McKenna (@KennaDeirdre). “Accurate information, clearly communicated and an available space to discuss and explore options and choices.”

Research shows that access to the right information, at the right time, delivered in the right way, leads to an increase in a patient’s desire and ability to take a more active role in decision-making.  Open and transparent communication and access to a patient’s own medical records is a key driver of patient empowerment. Medical Director and Consultant Surgeon, Dermot O’Riordan (@dermotor) believes to truly empower patients “we should be aiming for the “Open Notes” principles of default sharing of all documents.”    As patient advocate and CEO of Medistori Personal Health Record, Olive O’Connor (@MediStori) points out, “the patient is at the very core of every single service they use – they know everything there is to know about themselves, in the home and outside of it. Yet patient records are not kept with them!”

The OpenNotes initiative began in 2010 as a year-long demonstration project, with 105 primary care physicians at three diverse U.S. health care centers inviting 20,000 patients to read visit notes online through patient portals. Findings from the study suggest that shared notes may improve communication, safety, and patient-doctor relationships, and may help patients become more actively involved with their health and health care.  Evidence also shows a sixty percent improvement in the patient’s ability to adhere to medications, a major problem with managing chronic pain conditions. What is key to the discussion on patient empowerment is that this initiative “demonstrates how a simple intervention can have an enormous impact, even absent advanced technology” (my emphasis).

2. Health Literacy

While access to information is a key driver of patient information, health literacy is defined as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” (National Library of Medicine).  Health literacy should come before digital literacy. “Health literacy is crucial,” says healthcare analyst, Matthew Loxton (@mloxton), “and you cannot get empowerment without health literacy.” Soo Hun (@soo_cchsc), Programme Manager at the Centre for Connected Health and Social Care, believes “digital is a key aspect but health literacy, even basic literacy is a must. Not all things digital requires tech know-how but all health information requires basic literacy. An app for meds reminder is no use if a patient lacks understanding of why medication is needed in the first place or why they need to be taken promptly.  We spend too little time transferring knowledge to patients.”

This transfer of knowledge is crucial to the empowerment process, according to Olive O’Connor. “At the first point of contact with the patient,” she says, “education on how, what, why, where and when in relation to a condition or medication should be talked through fully. All other tools (digital, leaflets etc.) should come after the conversation which is key to empowerment.”

3. Digital Literacy

Cornell University defines digital literacy as “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.”  It’s interesting to note that opinions vary on whether digital literacy is essential to patient empowerment. RN turned patient advocate and health activist, Kayoko Ky Corbet (@kkcorbet) doesn’t believe that “digital literacy is an absolute requirement, but the ability to find accurate relevant information, and understand the information is.” Breast cancer advocate, Jennifer (@vitalfrequencis) agrees that “digital literacy is not fundamental and should not be part of the equation. Empowerment needs to be across all socioeconomic groups. Otherwise…a whole bunch of patients may never be empowered.”

Dermot O’Riordan is convinced that “whilst it sounds nice to say that digital is not ‘necessary’ for patient empowerment, in practice it is going to be pretty tough to do it properly/completely without digital.” Transplant recipient and rare disease patient, Carol McCullough (@Imonlyslightly ) also believes “digital literacy strengthens the empowerment process.” She too points to “access to your medical information online” as a key component of the empowerment process. “Knowing your personal medical data is strength, as is education about your illness,” she says.

Maternity campaigner, SeánaTalbot (@SeanaTalbot) believes that “those with long-term conditions and access to technology have a better chance of accessing information and support.”  Indeed many patients have found in the online world of peer-to-peer healthcare an environment in which they are supported to become a more empowered participant in their healthcare. As I look back on my own empowerment journey, my progress was advanced step-by-step by learning more about my disease initially from doctors, then through Internet searches, and most helpful of  all  through patient peers online. Finding and being part of a patient community can be an important step on the path to empowerment.

4. Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy, as it relates to healthcare, is belief in your ability to effect change in outcomes so that you can achieve your personal health goals. The patient empowerment definition which comes to us from the European Patient Forum describes empowerment as a process that “helps people gain control over their own lives and increases their capacity to act on issues that they themselves define as important.”

Developing a sense of personal control over your health is in itself empowering. The empowered patient is confident in their ability to manage their condition. When unsure about where to go or what to do next they will feel confident to ask questions of the healthcare professionals providing their care.  This confidence comes easier to some than others, and even the most confident may need guidance from their doctors in managing their disease. Endocrinologist, Iris Thiele Isip Tan, MD (@endocrine_witch) points out that “some of my patients are surprised when I teach them how to adjust/titrate insulin doses. Apparently not all MDs ‘allow’ this. Some need handholding because they get anxious about the responsibility.”

Digital leader and physiotherapist, Linda Vernon (@VernonLinda), believes “for authentic patient engagement to occur, we need to establish what the patient brings to the table, something akin to an individual, personal take on Asset-Based Community Development – perhaps we could think of it as Asset-Based Personal Development, supporting the patient to tap into their own internal, community or environmental resources to improve their health and wellbeing.  Engaging patients should be as much about exploring what they can do for themselves and to help the health and care system, as what we professionals can offer to the patient.”

5. Mutual Respect

The healthcare professional is the most important contact point for the patient and the system and (dis)empowerment often manifests in the patient/professional relationship. At the heart of the empowerment approach is seeing the patient-professional relationship as a partnership of equals.  Carol McCullough describes it as a reciprocal process of “mutual respect for what each person knows and being allowed to make informed choices. It is not about command and control.”

This is a partnership approach that seeks to balance clinician expertise with patient preference. It recognizes that while healthcare professionals are the experts in their knowledge of a disease, patients are the experts by experience. The empowerment process is about sharing both knowledge and experience to set new goals and learn with and from each other. Dr Kit Byatt (@Laconic_doc) agrees. “Many patients are experts”, he says, “especially rare disease patients.  I’ve learned from many in my career.”

Building better relationships and seeing the patient as more than ‘just a patient’ was a recurring theme in the Twitter chat. Elena Vaughan (@StigmaStudyIE), who is researching the impact of HIV-related stigma in Ireland, believes that “an empowered patient is treated with respect, involved in shared decision-making regrading care and treatment, and is not patronised. For people with chronic conditions, effective communication, continuity of care and establishing a relationship of trust is very important.” Sometimes, as ME blogger and patient advocate, Sally Burch (@KeelaToo) points out, “not all patients are lacking confidence to speak. The problem is being heard.”

Patient and community advocate, Triona Murphy (@Murpht01) advises doctors to get to know your patients as individuals.  “Know your patient!!…and their family,” she says. “No one size fits all! BUT there was/is still a culture of the ‘person’ stops at the door of the hospital and that person is now a patient.’”  As antibiotic resistance campaigner, Vanessa Carter (@_FaceSA) says, “I might be a patient but I am also a creative director by profession. No one recognises me on that level. They see me as an underdog.”

6. Shared Decision Making

This partnership approach allows for Shared Decision-Making (SDM) – the conversation that happens between a patient and clinician to reach a healthcare choice together. Examples include decisions about surgery, medications, self-management, and screening and diagnostic tests. There is ample research which suggests that health outcomes are better in patients who are more involved in decisions about their treatment.

In the SDM model, the clinician provides current, evidence-based information about treatment options, describing their risks and benefits, and the patient expresses his or her preferences and values. Matthew Loxton points to how seldom we have metrics to track whether patient goals are being met. “Yet this,” he believes, “is THE most important part of quality.”

7. A Facilitating Environment

Linda Vernon defines patient engagement as “activating the person’s inner assets and supporting them to make the best use of them.” Being supported is a key component of patient empowerment. Many patients would like to take more responsibility for their own health and care, given the opportunities and support to do so. Empowerment does not happen in a vacuum: it is a two-way process. The patient needs a counterpart in the health professional who welcomes the patient’s involvement and knows how to create an enabling healthcare environment. Kayoko Ky Corbet states she became an independent patient advocate when she realized most doctors simply do not have the time (and often skills) to take this facilitating role and promote shared decision-making that patients desperately need. As Patient Critical Co-op (@PatientCritical) puts it, “if you have a patient who wants to advocate for themselves, and become informed, you also need a doctor that respects the patient’s right to share decision making.”

Is It Empowerment or Participation?

Not everyone likes to use the term “empowerment”, as it implies that it is an authority given to someone to do something. “I balk at the idea that professionals can ‘give’ (usually on their terms) power to the powerless,” says Alison Cameron (@allyc375). “We need to create conditions whereby people can “empower” themselves.” Seána Talbot agrees that patient empowerment “doesn’t mean ‘giving’ people power.’ Rather it’s about ‘enabling’ them to recognise and use their power.”

Perhaps the term ‘participation’ (which is a more active state) is preferable? This distinction is important because empowerment cannot be imposed ‘top down’ (although it can be facilitated).  Sharon Thompson (@sharontwriter) believes that “patients should not be pressurised or need to be in a position of ‘power.’ It should be automatic that a patient is central and key to their care. Patients are automatically empowered when they are respected as being people who are entitled to understand and know about their care.”

Neither is patient empowerment about the patient taking full control or shifting responsibility to the patient.  “If the empowerment amounts to abandonment”, says Matthew Loxton, “then the patient’s health goals are not being met. Patient empowerment should never be an excuse for abandoning or burdening the patient.”

Rather, the empowerment approach, as defined by the European Patient Foundation (EPF) “aims to realise the vision of patients as ‘co-producers’ of health and as integral actors in the health system.”  Caregiver Reinhart Gauss (@ReinhartG) agrees that “patient advocates want to work with not against doctors – to share experiences and to grow in knowledge.”  Vanessa Carter is clear that “we still want our doctors, but they are not there 24/7 so patients need the right tools to make self-care possible.”

Equally, it is about recognizing that there are degrees of involvement and not all patients wish to be ‘empowered.’  There is a spectrum of interest in wanting to assume an active role in care – from being passively receptive to fully engaged. It is up to the patients themselves to choose their own level of engagement. Pharmacist Chris Maguire (@chris_magz) sees this choice as the essence of empowerment. Patients “get to decide how much they want to look into things and take control. Or they want to be guided on the journey and have trust in their healthcare providers. But the key is that they decide the level of interaction and are not dictated to.”  Kayoko Ky Corbet agrees that “true patient empowerment should be about helping patients get involved at their highest potential or at the level they choose.” However, she says “it’s also important to keep the option of involvement open. Ideally patients should get opportunities to change their minds to participate in decision-making later.”

Empowerment as an Ongoing Process

Empowerment is a non-binary, non-linear process. Your needs may change over time. You might feel empowered in a certain context, but disempowered in another. Healthcare communicator, Michi Endemann (@MichiEndemann) makes the distinction that “talking about empowerment as a healthy person is quite different than talking about it as a patient.”  As patient advocate, Rachel Lynch (@rachelmlynch) puts it, “it can be quite tiring being empowered when all you want to be is well.” A sentiment echoed by Kathy Kastner (@KathyKastner), founder of Best Endings, who clarifies how “to me ‘empowered’ assumes I’m feeling physically and mentally up to the task of ‘being engaged’. I’ve seen powerhouses who cannot bring themselves to take responsibility for their own health.”

Mental health advocate and co-founder of #DepressionHurts, Norah (@TalentCoop) calls attention to the fragile nature of empowerment. “Even the strongest can quickly feel disempowered by a deterioration in health,” she says. “Fear disempowers. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘can’t’ not ‘won’t.’”

For those who feel ready for a greater degree of participation in their healthcare (and that of their family and loved ones), Jennifer advises that “being willing to self-advocate, along with self-confidence, communication skills, compromise, research skills, and relationship building” are some of the key traits and skills you need to become an empowered patient. Terri Coutee (@6state), patient advocate and founder of DiepCjourney Foundation, adds that “empowered patients do their research, ask questions, go to appointments organized, and take a friend to help listen.”

Barriers to Patient Empowerment and Overcoming Challenges

What are some of the current barriers to involving patients more in their care? Jennifer points to a “lack of adequate time during the doctor’s visit (on both sides), language barriers, technology barriers, generation gaps, and cultural gaps.”  The solution?  “All solved by building good relationships,” says Jennifer.

Norah also calls attention to the technology barriers. “For older patients simple things like communication (hearing), or uninformed changes are extremely disempowering; as is over reliance on technology for a generation who may not have ‘tech’ understanding or access.”  Tim Delaney (@FrancosBruvva), Head of Pharmacy at a leading hospital in Ireland highlights the fact that “in acute hospitals we treat huge numbers of elderly people whose engagement with social media and new technology is lower. We need to design technology that meets their usability needs AND use whatever suits them best be it old tech or new.” Soo Hun agrees that “the tech savvy few have quicker and better access to health information and therefore can have choice and autonomy. To reverse that we need to make technology ubiquitous and make health information and choice easily accessible.”

Whilst Vanessa believes it should be “governmental policy to have digital resources in place, for example, disease specific websites / apps supported by health authorities,” Kayoko believes it can start with “tech-savvy advocates (like me) who could help patients learn to use simple digital tools.”

Matthew Loxton sees a core barrier to empowerment to be “the large knowledge/power gradients between patients and health care providers. Without access to their data, trustworthy sources of medical knowledge, and the power to execute their choices in achieving health goals, empowerment is an empty phrase.”  Triona Murphy echoes this systemic challenge by clarifying that “the whole system needs to understand the patient’s right to be equal partners in their care. IF that is what the patient wants.”

Sometimes the fear of being labelled a difficult patient can be a barrier to empowerment. “Some patients feel uncomfortable challenging the judgement or actions of their caregivers for the fear of being labelled as ‘difficult’, of offending staff and/or because of concerns of compromising their healthcare and safety,” says Tim Delaney.

Final Thoughts

Not everyone wants to be empowered in making decisions about their care, and not every doctor wants to take the time. Some doctors use medical terminology which is incomprehensible to patients, while some patients have low health literacy skills or come from cultural backgrounds that lack a tradition of individuals making autonomous decisions.  That said, Carol McCullough points out that while “not everyone may want to be empowered, for the health service to be sustainable, more people are going to have to take on more responsibility.”

Medical Doctor and Chair of Technical Advisory Board, Pavilion Health, Dr Mary Ethna Black (@DrMaryBlack) points to the inevitability of the shift towards patient empowerment. “Empowerment is an inevitable shift that is happening anyway, “she says. “We cannot turn back the tide or turn off the internet.”

Kayoko Ky Corbet agrees that we “must understand that patients making informed decisions is the ultimate way to reduce waste, pain and regrets in healthcare. It’s also morally the right thing to do!”  Patient Critical Co-op also believes in the moral imperative that “empowerment essentially means a group or society recognizing your right. Patient empowerment exists as an action patients can take to improve themselves, but the key to achieving that improvement is having a group, organization, or state enshrine and recognize those rights.” In fact, the Alma Ata Declaration defined civic involvement in healthcare as both a right and a duty: “The people have the right and duty to participate individually and collectively in the planning and implementation of their healthcare.” The Declaration highlights the collective dimension of empowerment and the importance of action towards change. By working together to think internationally and act nationally we can draw on each other’s experiences so that as individuals and as a collective we can work towards better outcomes for all patients.  To quote Terri Coutee, “When we gather our collective empowered voices, we feel a strong responsibility to give voice to others.”


I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Dr Liam Farrell in facilitating the Twitter discussion on which this article is based.


2020 Update: Patient Empowerment Revisited: What Does It Truly Mean To Patients?

 

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