Well, we are truly having a Groundhog Day movie experience, aren’t we? The policy returned—cancer patients can only see doctors in clinic alone and not accompanied by a loved one. It is a necessary precaution amid the recent surge of COVID cases, and I am sure you will agree. We need to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 whenever and wherever possible.
However, this removes the extra set of eyes and ears in the room to ask questions and remember what was said. Patients are so anxious and stressed that they might just sit there and keep nodding their heads up and down implying they understand what they are being told when, in fact, they don’t. This makes your role as their navigator doubly important as you need to reiterate what has been said and ensure they comprehend its meaning.
An additional step can also be considered—at the beginning of the consult, instruct the patient to voice-record the conversation or connect to their loved one via phone by placing them on speaker phone.
It is important that the patient’s first experience with the oncology team goes off smoothly and a relationship starts to build. This can only happen if everyone is singing from the same sheet music.
Of course, the doctor seeing the patient for the consult needs to agree to be voice-recorded. Frankly, if they don’t agree, I don’t think they should be taking care of oncology patients!
The doctor commonly asks for feedback in the form of YES and NO responses. However, when we ask a patient “did you understand what I just said?”, getting a simple yes or no response doesn’t tell us anything. Navigators need to chime in and say, “repeat back to me your understanding of what the doctor just told you.” NOW, we will see if they comprehend the information as intended.
We all look forward to the day when masks and gloves are off, and we can confidently hold the hand of our patient as well as hug them hello and goodbye. Until then, we still need to ensure they are able to actively and confidently participate in the decision-making about their care and treatment options.