Patient Safety Through Education: For the Patient

Patient care and practice have improved immensely over the years. There used to be a time when patients didn’t inquire much about their condition. Many of them only took the advice of their doctor without question and therefore never fully understanding their illness. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore. Patients who know more about their disease and treatment are more likely to complete their medication and therapy. They also understand when to report side effects and often make healthy behavior changes. Becoming an active participant in your care has many benefits and can even help speed up your recovery.

Treating a disease is a two-way street. It requires effort from both the healthcare provider and the patient.  If you are not interested in learning about your illness, your doctor’s efforts aren’t going to go too far. You may think it’s another thing to stress about when you’re already dealing with your diagnosis, rest assured that having more knowledge about your condition can help ease your anxiety. Furthermore, you can have some control in an out of control situation.

The Information You Need

You don’t have to be an expert in the language of medicine to get a grasp of your disease and treatment. While it may be totally new to you, a little effort can help you familiarize yourself with the lingo.

  • Learn the basics about your cancer

Start by asking your cancer care team for informational handouts or referrals to online resources they trust. You can also find reliable general cancer information on websites like and

If you find something on the internet, jot it down, save the web address, or print the page to bring to your appointment with your doctor. This will help them guide you through all the information you discover. This also leads to more effective communication between you and your doctor especially if you find a type of treatment on the internet that you are interested in.

  • Know your treatment options

Ask your provider about common treatments for your disease and possible clinical trials you can join. Learn how they work and their potential side effects. See if there are alternative therapies and their risks. 

Take your time in considering your treatment options. Weigh their risks and benefits. You might even want to get a second opinion to find out more information. Getting a cancer diagnosis may cause panic, but be sure you’re not diving in headfirst at the first treatment offered to you. In most cases of cancer, you can take a little time to find the best treatment for your specific condition. 

  • Prepare your cancer care strategy

Once you decide on a treatment, prepare yourself for everything that comes with it. Ask your oncologist what you can do if you experience side effects and if it happens at night or on a day where no one can assist you. Find out if there’s anything you can do to reduce the chance of a side effect or take any medication to make it less severe.

Ask if your therapy can affect your blood counts to the point that it puts you at risk for infection. Are there any precautions you should take? You can also clarify the things that you should avoid while receiving your treatment. Let your cancer care team know your job, hobbies, and pets you have. All of these are important in keeping you safe. 

Things To Consider 

You know your needs best. While your doctors and nurses do their best to provide the information you need, there may be barriers that hinder you from fully understanding the situation. Don’t ever be afraid to raise a question. These experienced professionals have heard them all. Here are other things to consider:

  • Language barrier

Even if English is not your first language, there are available interpreters that could help. All cancer centers offer this assistance either in person or by phone. 

Don’t feel obligated to be an interpreter if you are a family member who speaks English. Most health care facilities do not allow relatives to act as interpreters. In fact, it pays to have a certified medical interpreter to prevent errors. Focus on being a spouse, a child, or a friend – not an interpreter.

  • Remembering information

While you may be eager to learn, hearing your diagnosis can still put you in shock. You might not remember anything after your doctor says “you have cancer.” Remembering important information can be hard when you are in pain, stressed, or sleep-deprived. It’s perfectly fine to say, “that’s enough for today.” Don’t pressure yourself to learn everything at once. If you feel the information overloading, give yourself a break. You can also ask a loved one to accompany you and write down things for you.

If you have something in mind, it might help to bring that up first. That way, you’re not distracted throughout your consultation. Get your main question answered first so you can focus on whatever else you doctors have to say.

  • Your mental well-being

Many patients suffer through anxiety and depression once they learn about their diagnosis. It’s important to take care of your mental health while going through your cancer treatment. Your practical concerns can also have a major impact on this. These include driving to and from the center after the treatment, paying for the treatment, housing, and working concerns. Talk to a social worker at your cancer center to help you work through both emotional and practical issues.

Take the time to understand your disease and treatment. This may seem like an added task, but you can reduce your anxiety by knowing what to expect and preparing for them. Do your research and raise your concerns to your doctor. Learn when to call the office or manage a side effect. You don’t need a degree in medicine to learn the things that will keep you safe in your cancer care journey. Cooperating with your healthcare provider can go a long way. 

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