Tag Archive for: support

Where Can CLL Patients Access Financial Support?

Where Can CLL Patients Access Financial Support? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Is there patient financial assistance for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) treatments? CLL expert Dr. Seema Bhat shares resources and advice for accessing support.

Seema Bhat, MD is a hematologist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James. Learn more about Dr. Bhat.

See More from Thrive CLL

Related Resources:

Understanding CLL Treatment Classes

Understanding CLL Treatment Classes

Educational Resources for CLL Patients

Educational Resources for CLL Patients

Emerging CLL Treatment Approaches

Emerging CLL Treatment Approaches



Financial concerns can be another source of stress for people with CLL. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different, of course, but what resources are available for patients who need financial support? 

Dr. Bhat:  

So, financial barriers can be a real concern for our patients. Targeted therapies are very expensive, and although insurances do cover them, the approved FDA drugs, copays can be very high, and this adds on because our patients with – our treatments with CLL, some of them tend to be indefinite. That means patients have to take those medications on an ongoing basis, and when they face such situations, high copays, we look into financial assistance. We look for funding for copay assistance, and funding can be provided by pharmaceutical companies. We can also apply for grants through The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and other resources to help out our patients with these financial concerns.  


So, does the patient work with the healthcare team to find financial support? 

Dr. Bhat:  

Absolutely. We at our institution have what is called, “MAP,” or Medication Assistance Program. 

And when we see that – we run the medications through the insurance, then we see the copay is high, we refer our patients to the MAP program, and then they take over. They find them grants, they find them assistance through be it pharmaceuticals, copay assistance programs. So, invariably, almost all patients who come and see us are helped through that program.  


What about a nurse navigator or patient navigator? What do they do? How can they help?  

Dr. Bhat:

Well, so yes. Nurse navigators and patient navigators are also very important for caring for our patients. So, patients can have, besides our care for our patients which includes caring for their disease, caring for their symptoms, caring for their reduced hemoglobin and reduced platelets, our symptom management, they have psychological needs, they have functional needs, they have needs like family support. 

So, these are all the things that patient navigators can help patients set that up based on their – we have patients who travel from out of state, are from two or three hours away. So, these patient navigators look into what resources they should have available locally. Sometimes, patient navigators help us – some patients cannot do frequent travels back and forth, so we get them connected to local oncologists, also. So, patient navigators look into those appointments, look into those offices, so they provide a lot of help to us manage our patients. So, they provide more of a holistic management, rather than just treatment of CLL. 

Five Ways the PEN Empowerment Lead Program Can Support Your Cancer Journey

Our Empowerment Lead program is here to support patients and families around important topics and to provide navigation for the path to empowerment. Our Empowerment Leads are highly passionate empowerment ambassadors volunteering from around the U.S., engaging with the PEN network of cancer patients and care partners, and serving as a direct channel of empowerment.  

1. Utilize the PEN Text-Line

By texting EMPOWER to +1-833-213-6657, you can meet someone with your same condition  and  receive personalized support from our Empowerment Leads. Whether you’re a cancer patient, or a  friend or loved one of a cancer patient, PEN’s Empowerment Leads will be here for you at every step of your journey.

2. Watch PEN Videos

Taking a proactive role in your well-being as a patient is of utmost importance for optimal health outcomes. And PEN videos are a trusted source when seeking out information from cancer experts, patients, care partners, and PEN Empowerment Leads. Whether you’re a newly diagnosed patient, care partner, long-time cancer patient, or other concerned patient advocate, PEN videos provide a valuable way to learn about cancer patient stories, testing information, questions to ask your cancer specialist, how to support and be supported as a care partner, ensuring that your patient voice is heard, and more.

3. Read PEN Blogs

Our PEN blogs are a rich source of support information on a wide range of topics for cancer patients and care partners. The blogs serve as another way to gain knowledge and advice for navigating and coping with your cancer journey. Some recent topics have included mental  health advice, financial support resources, nutrition and exercise tips, COVID-19 vaccine guidelines, patient stories, caregiver advice, genetic testing, and cancer news updates.

4. Download and Use Our Activity Guides

Initiated as a patient and care partner tool at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our PEN-Powered Activity Guides continue as a way to stay connected and to relieve stress during your cancer journey. Packed with information and support resources, the Activity Guides provide content including clinical trial information and experiences, patient stories and lessons learned, advice from care partners, healthy recipes, music playlists, coloring pages, and more. If you’re a busy cancer patient or care partner, the Activity Guides are easy to print to take with  you to read during travel and waiting room time for cancer care appointments.

5. Learn About Our PEN Empowerment Leads

If you don’t have time to watch a video or to read a blog right away, you can browse our list of PEN Empowerment Leads. You can easily see the community that each Empowerment Lead serves  and read a short bio about their experience as a cancer patient or care partner.

By taking advantage of our PEN Empowerment Lead resources, cancer patients and care partners can gain knowledge and confidence to navigate their own cancer journeys.

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

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

Dr. Jorge Castillo discusses the patient’s role in their Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM) treatment decisions and shares advice encouraging patients to be active participants in their care.

Dr. Jorge Castillo is Clinical Director at the Bing Center for Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Learn more about Dr. Castillo, here.

See More From The Pro-Active Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Patient Toolkit

Related Programs:

Emerging Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Approaches

Emerging Waldenström Macroglobulinemia Treatment Approaches

When Is It Time to Treat Waldenström Macroglobulinemia?

When Is It Time to Treat Waldenström Macroglobulinemia?

Why Patients Should Speak Up About WM Symptoms and Side Effects

Why Patients Should Speak Up About WM Symptoms and Side Effects



What do you feel is the patient’s role in treatment decisions?

Dr. Castillo:               

From my perspective, the patient’s role is very important. I need, as a physician, that the patient feels that it’s part of the team here. So, when patients come to see me, I strongly encourage patients to bring as many people as they want with them. If they want somebody on FaceTime at the same time, I’m happy with that too. And that helps because the amount of data that we provide, the amount of information that we provide, is a lot in terms of quantity. But sometimes, it’s not easy to understand when you just hear it one time, right?

So, having somebody taking notes, having somebody else taking notes, having somebody else listening, somebody else asking questions, and then somebody else explaining back to the patient – the patient is looking for the best for them, but if he’s also affected by the whole process. It would be naïve to feel – or to think – that somebody was told they have an incurable blood cancer, and they are completely paying attention to everything you’re saying, after you said something like that.

So, I think it’s important for patients to be there with family, friends, or whoever wants to be there to help out. I think that’s a really important aspect. Then, number two is you need to know about your own disease. And I am fortunate to work with a group of patients who are highly educated, to the point that they get to know more about their disease than their own doctor. And I think that’s key. I think that’s important. For me, that is not threatening or challenging. I think that is actually a good thing.

And that way, I can have a more direct conversation, meaningful, because I understand that the patient is understanding what I am saying, and we are trying to speak the same language, so I think that is key also. So, bottom line, I think education from the patient perspective, involvement of their care, I think that’s key so they can be their own best advocates.

There is going to be a lot of – since it’s a rare disease, there’s going to be a lot of backs and forths with different physicians. Some physicians are going to be more intensive and trying to treat when the patient doesn’t need to be treated. The opposite is also true in which a patient, they do need treatment, and the physicians are saying, “No, we can wait a little bit longer.” And again, that has nothing to do with the quality of the doctor. It’s just the fact that the disease is rare, and to keep up with it is very difficult. So, the patient being their best advocate is actually a very important role that they should have.


Knowledge is power.

Dr. Castillo:               

That’s right.

How Speaking Up Can Positively Impact Your Colon Cancer Care

How Speaking Up Can Positively Impact Your Colon Cancer Care from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Why should you advocate for the best care for you? Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi, a colon cancer specialist from Cleveland Clinic, provides key advice to access better care, including the value of second opinions, and why you should feel empowered to speak up.

Dr. Smitha Krishnamurthi is a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about Dr. Krishnamurthi here.

See More From The Pro-Active Colon Cancer Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

Should Your Family Members Be Screened for Colon Cancer?


Katherine Banwell:

What is your advice to patients who may feel like they’re hurting feelings by seeking a specialist or even a second opinion?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

I would advise patients to not worry about that at all. I think that any one of us diagnosed with colorectal cancer would want a second opinion, would want to make sure that we’re getting an opinion from a high-volume cancer. Working here are Cleveland Clinic, I have the luxury of focusing on treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, whereas my colleagues who are in the community are treating patients with all different types of cancers. They have to be knowledgeable in all different types of cancers.

I think that’s actually much harder. I think that if your oncologist is not a specialist, the oncologist may actually appreciate having an opinion from a specialist, which helps them as well.

I think that if the doctor is going to be offended, then that’s probably not the right doctor to see. I think it’s important to just advocate for oneself and go for it.

Katherine Banwell:

That leads to my next question. What advice do you have about self-advocacy, about speaking up for yourself as a patient?

Dr. Krishnamurthi:

I think that’s very important to feel comfortable with your treatment team, with the doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner. If you have the luxury where you have choices where you live, seek out somebody who you can really connect with. I think it’s very important for the treating team to know what the patient is going through.

We have to know how the treatment is going so that we’re dosing properly, making adjustments. We want to know what our patient’s goals are so that we’re providing the best quality care.

I think it’s helpful to bring somebody to appointments. Or if you can’t bring somebody, you’ll call them on the phone. We’re doing that a lot now. People are joining by video call or even speaker phone. Many offices will have a speakerphone. You can ask to have somebody called on your behalf. Especially with COVID and the restricted visitation. Let’s get people on the phone. Somebody else to listen for you. For the patient, I mean, and to take notes. That really helps

Peer-to-Peer Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Peer-to-Peer Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma Network Manager Honora and Myeloma patient Barry stress the importance of finding a myeloma specialist as soon as possible, finding a support group, being comfortable with your healthcare team. Remaining hopeful and positive throughout your diagnosis is key.


Honora Miller

I’d like to point out the importance of finding a myeloma specialist as soon as possible in your myeloma journey. There have been studies done, I can’t point to the specifics of one at this moment, there have been studies done that have shown that myeloma patients who have a myeloma specialist have a better long-term outcomeWhen you get a myeloma specialist, they’re dealing, they’ve dealt with hundreds, perhaps thousands of myeloma patients, and because of the complexity and variation of the myeloma with the disease, really you need to have that level of knowledge. So that would be something that I would encourage somebody newly diagnosed to find, to be referred to a myeloma specialist, possibly not as their primary provider, but as a secondary guider of the process. I do have that. So, I have a second doctor who I meet with quarterly, say, who is at a different institution who guides my myeloma treatment, and he’s a myeloma specialist and he handled my stem cell transplant. 

Barry Marcus

I think it’s very important to have a support group. Somebody who is newly diagnosed, I would counsel them to seek out a support group now it’s hard in the time of COVID, the support group that I was in, quit meeting because of it. I’m right now in the process of trying to find another one that meets virtually, and I would highly recommend that it feels good to connect with people who are going through the same things that you are, and maybe get varied perspectives on different issues around myeloma.  

I really want to emphasize how important it is to get information and to feel comfortable with your health team and the care that you’re getting and pursue that. Don’t feel like you’re worried about offending anybody, because in the first place, probably you’re not. In the second place, it’s your life. If you die, they go on to the next patient. And you’re done. 

 Honora Miller

True enough. True enough. For new patients, and I’ve talked to quite a few, having hope is something that is very important and having a positive outlook, and when you get this sudden diagnosis, it’s very scary and overwhelming. But I want to encourage people to remain hopeful, to stay positive, this is an as yet incurable cancer, but it’s being treated more and more like a chronic disease, and there’s never been a time as good as now in terms of the number of treatment options and new drugs that are coming down the pipeline, so it’s a time of great hope for myeloma, and I want to emphasize that for people because I do think that it’s important for people to hold on to that. 

Barry Marcus

I couldn’t agree more. That’s well said.

Receive Personalized Support Through PEN’s New Text-Line

Now, you can receive personalized support from our Network Managers by texting EMPOWER to +1-833-213-6657. Each of our Network Managers is a compassionate volunteer who can offer you their first-hand experience with specific cancer types. Whether you’re a cancer patient, or caring for someone who is, PEN’s Network Managers will be here for you at every step of your journey. 

To introduce how you can benefit from the PEN Text-Line, we’ve shared the following FAQs, but please let us know if you have feedback or further questions.

What number do I text?


Who will receive and respond to my text messages?

Your text will be received by PEN’s Network Manager Coordinator, who will then connect you to the Network Manager best-suited to support your needs. Additional Network Managers may also respond, as we know it can be helpful to receive more than one perspective.

Your initial message to the PEN Text-Line will receive an auto-response, but please know that it will soon be read and personally responded to by a member of the PEN team! 

What types of support can I receive from the Network Managers?

Through their personal experiences with cancer, PEN’s Network Managers are here to offer you community and connection. You can ask us anything! For example:

  • Cancer-focused guidance
  • Online and in-person support groups for patients or care partners
  • Financing options for cancer treatment
  • Identifying clinical trials
  • Recommended webinars
  • What questions to ask your healthcare team
  • Methods for managing stress, and for living in the moment
  • How to share the news of your diagnosis with loved ones and colleagues

We also encourage you to reach out even if you don’t have a specific question; you are not in this alone—there will always be someone from the Patient Empowerment Network team here to listen and offer encouragement. 

Are there other reasons to engage with PEN’s Text-Line?


Send us your suggestions for our online content and services. For example: 

  • What topics would you like us to cover more, or less often?
  • Do you have suggestions for PEN’s future Empowered #PatientChats
  • Would you like to contribute articles to the PEN blog
  • Do you want to inspire others by sharing the story of your own path to patient empowerment?

Be the first to receive the latest PEN news by texting the word EMPOWER to the Text-Line. You will then be prompted to choose what notifications you would like to subscribe to. For example:

  • Upcoming PEN webinars and other events
  • New content releases from the Network Managers
  • Wellness boosts, such as notes of encouragement and health tips

Is my interaction with the PEN Network Managers Text-Line HIPAA compliant?

Your messages will always be kept in strict confidence, however the PEN Text-Line is not HIPAA compliant. Therefore, we encourage you to use discretion when discussing specific information such as your or other individuals’ names, diagnosis details, etc. Please note that any advice provided by the PEN Network Managers is not medical advice. We also recommend patients refrain from giving other patients medical advice.

Who can I contact for more information or to provide feedback?

Feel free to email Nykema Mpama at kema@powerfulpatients.org.

Message and data rates may apply 


Advocating for Key AML Testing: Advice From an Expert

Advocating for Key AML Testing: Advice From an Expert from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Hetty Carraway, an AML specialist at Cleveland Clinic, shares advice on advocating for yourself when diagnosed with AML, underscoring the importance of asking questions, and including your caregiver as part of the conversation.

Dr. Hetty Carraway is Director of the Leukemia Program at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Carraway cares for patients with acute leukemia and bone marrow failure states. Learn more about Dr. Carraway, here.

See More From INSIST! AML

Related Resources:

 Treatment Approaches in AML: Key Testing for Personalized Care

 New AML Therapies vs. Traditional Chemotherapy: What’s the Difference?

 Understanding Risk in AML: How Molecular Testing Affects Treatment Options



What advice do you have for patients when it comes to asking for appropriate testing and speaking up in their own care?

Dr. Carraway:            

This is so important. I think patients are leery to stir the pot or be difficult. I think coming from a place of inquiry, teach me about this, that, or the other thing, help me understand this, that, or the other thing – I would like you to show me why this decision or talk with me about why this decision versus another decision might be better for me compared to somebody else.

I can’t underscore the importance of advocating for yourself and asking questions about why am I getting this drug? What are the side effects to this drug? What is my prognosis? What is different about my case versus somebody else’s situation? How do I best prepare myself in getting ready for the therapy that I’m about to go through?

Those are all important questions that patients should ask. They should certainly have people, if possible in their family be advocates for them. I welcome that, and I think that that’s a really important part of going through this type of therapy for any patient. Your physician should welcome having your involvement in that. Don’t be shy about that. It’s your health, and any investment in that the most important people in that is inclusive of you and your caregivers. They should be a welcome part of the team.

Empowered #patientchat – The Role of Support and Advocacy Throughout the Patient Journey

Youre Invited! We hope you‘ll join us for our next Empowered #patientchat discussion as we explore the role of support and advocacy at different points along the patient journey. We will be joined by special guest, Laurie Reed (@LReedsBooks).

Listening, distilling, and giving voice to the concerns of others are the skills Laurie Reed developed over 20 years of marketing research for two leading international companies. Laurie holds a Master’s of Science degree as well as a Certificate in Patient Advocacy, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Throughout her years of professional experience in media communications and healthcare, it has been Laurie’s singular objective to ensure representation of the voice of the customer in strategic planning, decision-making, and policy.

We hope to see you Friday, November 16th on Twitter (or tchat.io/rooms/patientchat) at 10:00 am Pacific / 1:00 pm Eastern. Be sure to include the hashtag #patientchat in all your responses!

Guiding our discussion will be the following Topic (T#:) Questions:

T1: What types of support, if any, did you have when you were first diagnosed? #patientchat

T2: How do you think having/not having support at the time of diagnosis impacted your decisions or course of treatment? #patientchat

T3: During treatment what type of support have you had? #patientchat

T4: How do you think having support during treatment had an impact on your decisions or the course of treatment? #patientchat

T5: How has support changed for you from the time of diagnosis through treatment? #patientchat

T6: How significant of a role has advocacy – whether for yourself, from others, or with the help of an organization or online community – played for you in the course of treatment? #patientchat

Click HERE to learn more about the Empowered #patientchat Series plus read tips on how to participate.

I'll be at the Empowered #patientchat on Friday 11/16 at 10amPT | 1pmET. Join me! Click To Tweet

Regularly scheduled Empowered Patient Chats (#patientchat) are held every other Friday at 10:00 am Pacific / 1:00 pm Eastern and during the chat patients and advocates come to learn from each other and discuss topics of interest to empowered patients.


Changing the Caregivers’ Refrain

I’ve spent the past two years since my Mom’s death wondering if I could have — no, I’ll be totally honest with you — wondering if I should have done more. If only I had looked into clinical trials while she still met the inclusion criteria. If only I had sought out and demanded that she see an expert sooner. If only I had been more patient, more present, more supportive. All of this because no matter how much you give of yourself as a caregiver, you’re always left feeling like you could, no, should have done more. Guilt, fear, exhaustion and stress are the refrain we caregivers hear, on continuous repeat, in our heads.

But what if we could change this? What if we, collectively as a community, could provide the support and encouragement that caregivers need? What if we worked together to change the refrain they (we) hear to something more positive?

My Mom, Shirley, was diagnosed with Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM) in 2008.  IBM is a relatively rare inflammatory muscle disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness and wasting. Her diagnosis came after years of our family telling her that the weakness she felt and her frequent falls could easily be solved if she just exercised more often.

Towards the end of her life she was unable to leave the house or even get out of bed. Her muscles had wasted to a point that she couldn’t move her arms or legs. She couldn’t even swallow. My Dad and I took care of her at home until she was admitted to hospice and died shortly thereafter.

The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 34.2 million Americans have or are providing (unpaid/family) care to an adult aged 50 years or older[1].  48 percent of caregivers are between the ages of 18-49. This means that most caregivers are starting or already have families of their own to care for, careers to build and tend to, and other commitments beyond their role of caregiver.

Being a caregiver was hard. Literally, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But looking back on it, I realize just how lucky I was. I had a committed co-caregiver in my Dad. I have an incredibly supportive husband who, without hesitation, agreed to move closer to my parents.  I also have a great support system of friends and colleagues. Not all caregivers are as lucky. Caregivers report feelings of isolation, chronic stress, depression and symptoms of declining health. Many caregivers have no one to turn to for support and encouragement. They have no one to “cover” for them when they need a break.  No one to talk to when they feel that they just can’t continue on another day.

This is why my organization, Patient Empowerment Network, is trying to grow the Empowered Patient Facebook Group. We want it to be a safe, supportive place where patients and caregivers can find the help they need, even if it’s just to swap stories or learn a new “caregiver hack” to make life a little easier. We want to work with you and for you to build a community of empowered patients and caregivers.

A dear friend once told me that we do the best we can in the moment we’re in. Maybe that’s a cop out but, having been a caregiver, I believe it’s true. The trick is reminding ourselves and each other that it’s true. I encourage you to use this community to help share that reminder and, hopefully, change the caregivers’ refrain.

[1] [National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S.]

Mental Health & Cancer

Anxiety, fear and depression are commonly associated with life-changing events – especially cancer. People with cancer may find the physical, emotional and social side effects of the disease to be stressful. This stress may result from changes in body image, changes in family or work roles and physical symptoms due to treatment. Family members and caregivers often feel these same stressors, as they fear the loss of a loved one. They may feel angry because someone they love has cancer, frustrated that they “can’t do enough,” or stressed because they have to take on more at home. So many of these feelings are completely normal, but what is typical and when may outside help be needed?

According to The American Cancer Society, signs that the patient or a loved one may need help are the following:

  • Suicidal thoughts (or thoughts of hurting himself or herself)
  • Unable to eat or sleep
  • Lacks interest in usual activities for many days
  • Is unable to find pleasure in things they’ve enjoyed in the past
  • Has emotions that interfere with daily activities and last more than a few days
  • Is confused
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Is sweating more than usual
  • Is very restless
  • Has new or unusual symptoms that cause concern

If you or a loved one have experienced one or more of the above symptoms, there are many options for help.

Speak with your cancer team

If you find any of the above symptoms to be true, one of the first steps may be talking with your cancer team. Your team should be able to answer any questions, talk about your concerns, and, if needed, refer you to a mental health professional. Anxiety occasionally stems from the fear of uncertainty from treatment or medication side effects, so knowing what to expect may be the first step in coping.

Seek support

Once you have spoken with your cancer team and support system to determine a treatment plan, put it into action! Any of the below activities may supplement the treatment prescribed by your doctor in making both you and your loved ones feel less alone and anxious during this difficult time:

Get moving

Exercise has been proven to improve individuals’ quality of life and physical functionality. Though rest and relaxation are crucial to maintaining a healthy mind and body, regular exercise may help maintain and even improve your health. Exercise may help during treatment by improving balance and physical abilities, lowering the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, and lessen nausea. Even more importantly than physical health, exercise may improve patients’ self-esteem, mental health and quality of life.

Every individuals’ physical needs and potential are different, so it is important to speak with your doctor about what exercises are best for you. Because the stage and treatment plan for cancer patients differ, so may each patients’ stamina and strength. Staying as active and fit as possible is essential to maintaining physical well-being during treatment, so tailoring an exercise program that fits your ability and preference is essential.



A Person Centered Approach To The Care Of Chronic Illness

The World Health Organization has called chronic conditions ‘the health care challenge of this century’. According to the latest figures released by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention about half of all adults have one or more chronic health conditions; and one of four adults have two or more chronic health conditions. Long-term diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are the leading cause of mortality worldwide and are estimated to be the leading cause of disability by 2020. A landmark paper, published on 9 July 2016 in Nature Reviews, reports the prevalence of global diabetes has been seriously underestimated by at least 25 per cent.

These figures are alarming, but what is equally alarming is that despite the prevalence and seriousness of the situation, our medical system is not structured to adequately respond to chronic illness. Our current health systems are designed to prevent, diagnose and treat acute medical conditions. The problem is not that people with chronic diseases do not receive care; rather, the acute care model ignores the fundamentally different approach that is needed to care for people with chronic conditions. Furthermore, this model leaves little room for the psycho-social dimensions of chronic illness; it addresses parts of diseases or small sub-parts of the body, but it does not address the person in a holistic way.

How can we begin to address this disconnect in a healthcare system which cares for pieces of people, rather than the whole person?

I believe the answer lies in adopting a person-centered approach to the care of the patient (while you may find the term patient-centered care is more widely-used, I prefer to use the more all-encompassing person-centered care as it focusses on the whole person). Describing the person-centered care approach, Dr Ronald Epstein, MD and Dr Richard Street, PhD characterize it as one in which “patients are known as persons in the context of their own social worlds, listened to, informed, respected, and involved in their care.”

Providing care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions, was recognized as a dimension of high-quality health care in the 2001 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report Crossing The Quality Chasm; An New Health System for The 21st Century as one of six quality aims for improving care. The IOM report drew on research conducted in 1993 by the Picker Institute in conjunction with the Harvard School of Medicine 1 which identified eight dimensions of patient-centered care.

These eight principles provide a roadmap for a person-centered approach to the care of chronic illness.

1. Respect for patients values, preferences and expressed needs

A fundamental tenet of person-centered care concerns putting people and their families at the center of clinical decisions. Each patient brings his/her own unique preferences, concerns and expectations to a clinical encounter and these values should be integrated into decisions if they are to serve the patient. Patients have a right to be part of the decision making process. This is best achieved through the model of shared decision making, the conversation that happens between a patient and their health professional to reach a healthcare choice together. At the very heart of shared decision making is the recognition that healthcare providers and patients bring different but equally important forms of expertise to the decision-making process. Patients and their families will bring their experience of living with a disease, their social circumstances and preferences. This is particularly relevant in chronic health conditions where the patient may have many years of experience of their symptoms and responses to treatments.

2. Co-ordination and integration of care

Research shows that patients highly value coordination of their care, seeing it as an important component of overall quality, especially when they have chronic health problems and complex needs. The reality however, is a patient with a chronic condition often receives care from multiple healthcare providers who may work independently from each other. This fragmented system affects the follow-through and co-ordination of care patients receive.

3. Addressing patients’ information, communication and education needs

Patients differ in their views about how much information they want. In some cases, patients want a lot of information and in other cases patients may delegate decision making entirely to healthcare professionals. The goal of patient-centeredness, according to the IOM report, is to customize information to the specific needs of each individual; that is, to modify the care to respond to the person, not the person to the care. Information needs to be much more easily available and understandable and a concerted effort made to strengthen health literacy for all patients.

4. Physical comfort

Attention to physical comfort implies timely, tailored and expert management of symptoms such as pain or other discomfort. Person-centered pain management takes into account not just the physical aspect of pain, but also the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of health and disease.

5. Emotional support and alleviation of fear and anxiety

Fear and anxiety associated with illness can be as debilitating as the physical effects. As defined by the Institute of Medicine, patient-centered care attends to the anxiety that accompanies all injury and illness, whether due to uncertainty, fear of pain, disability or disfigurement, loneliness, financial impact, or the effect of illness on one’s family. Chronic illness affects every aspect of our lives and patients face a range of stressors from medical management of our illness, to dealing with changes in family life, work life or student life. The psychological effects of chronic illness can be profound. Individuals with chronic illness are more likely to be depressed, especially those who experience greater levels of pain and disability. In a paper published in the Western Journal of Medicine authors Jane Turner and Brian Kelly examined the emotional dimensions of chronic disease. They concluded that:

  • The emotional dimensions of chronic conditions are often overlooked when medical care is considered
  • Doctors may be well equipped for the biomedical aspects of care but not for the challenges of understanding the psychological, social, and cultural dimensions of illness and health
  • Clinicians can play an important part in helping their patients to maintain healthy coping skills

6. Involvement of family and friends

The sixth dimension of patient-centered care recognizes the key role of families and friends in supporting and caring for a chronically ill person. It focuses on accommodating family and friends on whom patients may rely, involving them as appropriate in decision making, supporting them as caregivers, making them welcome and comfortable in the care delivery setting, and recognizing their needs and contributions.

7. Continuity and transition

Every episode of care involves various individuals and oftentimes multiple transfers between different health care settings. Poor communication during transitions leads to increased rates in hospital readmissions, medical errors, and poor health outcomes. Most patients and family caregivers are not encouraged to play an active role when a transition in their care occurs, even though they are often the only constants in the transition.

8. Access to care

Patients need to know they can access care when it is needed. In interviews conducted by Picker, patients indicated the following areas were of importance:

  • Access to the location of hospitals, clinics and physician offices
  • Availability of transportation
  • Ease of scheduling appointments
  • Availability of appointments when needed
  • Accessibility to specialists or specialty services when a referral is made
  • Clear instructions provided on when and how to get referrals.

Ideally patients should have access to the right service at the right place at the right time. This may take place outside the traditional healthcare setting, as Meredith Dezutter, who applies human-centered design to improve the lives of patients, caregivers and providers through her work at Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation, points to: “It may mean making medical knowledge more accessible and supporting local care decisions, offering online support or video appointments or even connecting the patient with resources in his or her community.”

For too long, patients have been grouped into a single homogenized category, and treatment approaches to care generalized. This ignores the reality of chronic illness which presents in different ways. Treatment of chronic conditions requires an individualized, multifaceted approach. Care is enhanced when there is sensitivity for the context of the illness experience. Person-centered care is a method of care that treats the patient as a person within the context of their lives, family and community support, mental and emotional state, beliefs and preferences. It is based on good communication and a partnership approach between clinician and patient with the aim of improving patient self-management, care outcomes and satisfaction. PhD student and health researcher, Doro Bechinger-English, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, believes that person-centered care facilitates a closer connection between a patient and healthcare provider. “The healthcare professional shows their presence by connecting with me as a patient and a person”, she says. “Person-centered care also means being open to my values, anxieties, concerns and preferences however small or alien they seem to be.”

Redesigning our healthcare systems to adopt a patient-centered perspective is not without its challenges in an acute care system that is primarily reactive, but ultimately doesn’t every patient deserve to be treated in a system in which he or she feels known, respected, involved, engaged, and knowledgeable about their own care?

1 Gerteis M, Edgman-Levitan S, Daley J, Delbanco T. Through the patient’s eyes: understanding and promoting patient-centered care. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass; 1993

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