By Elizabeth Fernandez | July 10, 2012
Cancer patients across the country have a new way to navigate through difficult treatment decisions and communicate better with their doctors. “Open to Options,’’ which recently launched nationally, was developed in conjunction with UCSF to guide patients in making critical health decisions.
The project is designed to remedy a generations-old problem by helping patients become more informed and involved in their medical care. Bridging the communications gap between doctors and patients, Open to Options helps patients frame their concerns and formulate a list of questions which are then shared with their oncologists.
“Patients often freeze up during appointments with their doctors and forget to ask the questions that have been keeping them awake at night,’’ said Jeffrey Belkora, PhD, a UCSF faculty member and director of Decision Services with the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In the days after a cancer diagnosis, patients are all too often catapulted into a frightening and bewildering landscape, required to make important medical decisions during a particularly vulnerable point in their lives. Overwhelmed by the complexity of treatment avenues, many patients struggle to even form questions for their doctors.
Open to Options, launched by Cancer Support Community — a national, nonprofit network that offers cancer education and support — provides professional counselors who help patients develop a concrete set of personalized questions and concerns to be raised with their doctors.
The service was inspired by Belkora’s program at UCSF, in which a team of student interns works with patients to help them develop questions for upcoming appointments.
Laura Esserman, MD, MBA, director of the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, recruited Belkora to form UCSF Decision Services in response to studies showing that cancer patients often feel unprepared to ask questions about their medical treatment, and sometimes face communication barriers that impede their full participation in decisions. By writing a list of questions, patients become better informed and involved, which in turn leads to better psychosocial and in some cases physical outcomes, says Belkora.