Treating Patients, Not Diseases
Many trends have evolved in the healthcare industry, such as personalised medicine or alternative medicine. One of the drives is the shift towards a patient-centric approach, serving the industry’s interest to cure diseases more efficiently, but also driven by individuals becoming more conscious about their well-being. New choices of treatments empower patients while scientific progress continues to provide doctors with better tools and drugs to offer. When it comes to making a decision about the best-suited treatment for a patient: what criteria are taken into account by the healthcare providers when they make treatment propositions, and are those criteria the same as the ones considered by the patients?
Indeed, among the modern tragedies lie the notorious cancers and the scary reputation of their treatment, chemotherapy, that causes some patients to decline treatment in order to avoid enduring its side effects. Without placing any judgement on such a choice, it is important to make sure the most informed decisions possible are made. In particular, we should strive to educate everyone about the available support medicine that improves patient experience, rather than focus only on which drugs can cure the disease in the most efficient and cost-optimised way. With all the exciting advances in medical sciences and technology, we must not forget that the primary goal is to treat people, not diseases.
What needs to be understood is that medication that improves patient experience does exist and should be taken into account when making potentially health-threatening decisions. They are sometimes left out for budget purposes or to save resources, because doctors or facilities are trying to save resources and cut corners. Since they usually prioritise the treatment outcome, one will seek to cut corners by limiting the support medication first. Public misconceptions must be tackled as well, it must be educated about the fact that nausea and vomiting can be controlled. For now, there is a tendency to magnify the side effects too much, which generates a fear that drives patients to hide from the problem, seek alternative medicine, pretend the disease is not here or hope they can just will it away.
Additionally, oncologists undergo a lot of pressure constantly and aren’t always able to provide the psychological support that the patients sometimes need. Shifting the medical aim to treat patient experience rather than relentlessly battle the sickness alone would help fuel a healthier doctor-patient relationship. While every cancer patient’s journey is different, it is important to talk about side effects and their impact on experience realistically, taking all options into account.
The social factor of fear should not affect the decision-making process regarding a patient’s treatment, and this is an issue that the media can play a role for in educating the general public. The same goes for the healthcare providers: awareness must be raised among doctors and nurses regarding patient experience, because lack of treatment that ends up in severe complications during the cancer’s later stage with need of hospitalisation isn’t doing the patient, nor the healthcare industry, any good.
Ideally, direct communication channels should be open between the governments and their healthcare system, to raise this issue and trigger a downstream education of the general public. Making support drugs more available, covering their cost with insurance in order to integrate them as part of the standard of care would help normalising the conversation about patient experience and the choice for treatment without having to severely compromise on quality of life would encourage the system to put suffering patients, and their health, first.
In an era of flourishing medical research, it would be unfortunate to put patients in the unnecessary position where they feel they have to choose between their health or their quality of life.
By Katya Guez Christiane
Katya Guez is currently pursuing her Life Sciences and Bioengineering degree at the Swiss Federal Institute of technology in Lausanne.