General Practitioners as a “Person of Trust” for Cancer Patients

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Cancer patients

Cancer patients require psychosocial assistance in addition to medical treatments, which respectively involves the general practitioner and the oncologist. A recent study sheds light on oncologists’ opinion about the involvement of general practitioners in treating cancer patients, which paves the way to future improvements in establishing communication bridges between general practitioners and oncologists for the benefit of the patient.

 

From an external perspective, cancer treatment may seem to require solely the oncologist’s expertise. However, this view is inherently wrong as cancer treatment is increasingly regarded as a multidisciplinary field in which patients’ needs are more accurately met when many different specialists contribute, including General Practitioners (GP). In fact, GPs are involved in many different aspects of cancer treatment, including prevention, screening, diagnosis, blood withdrawal and treatment of side-effects, shared follow-up and survivorship care among others.

However, unlike oncologists who need to develop a new relationship with the patient following cancer diagnosis, GPs have built such relationship over multiple years. GPs are a familiar figure for the patient, making them invaluable resources when it comes to providing psychosocial assistance among other things. Patients should benefit from the combined expertise of GPs and oncologists. However, several surveys demonstrated that there is a great disconnect between GPs’ and oncologists’ perspective about each other’s involvement in cancer treatment. However, it should be noted that most of these surveys were quantitative studies prone to biases depending on the way each question was asked and leaving little space to nuances in the answers provided.

To gain a deeper understanding of the oncologist’s perspective of GPs’ expertise, a German research group performed a qualitative study in which 15 oncologists were questioned in February 2016. Their results were published in Family Practice. Interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes and were all audio-taped. Importantly, unlike other studies, questions were open ended, thereby enabling the ability to more finely define interviewee opinion on multiple topics, including the tasks carried out by GPs, how oncologists view the work performed by GPs, communication with GPs and how important GPs are for cancer patients.

Their results show that oncologists often describe GPs as a “persons of trust” for their patients. This is presumably because of GPs deep knowledge of the patients’ medical history and family situation, which allows them to more thoroughly grasp their patients’ state of mind. Such relationship offers GPs advantages over oncologists, including their ability to deal with patient anxiety issues and to explain an oncologist’s treatment decisions. However, from the perspective of a few oncologists, this also presents risks such as providing misleading information, which may lead to patients challenging oncologists about treatment decisions.

Although the sample size of this study may appear very small, it should be seen as a complement to other quantitative studies involving more medical practitioners. Unlike most other studies, it provides information about the oncologist’s view of GPs expertise in cancer treatment and as a qualitative study, it more precisely defines this perspective. In summary, these results pave the way for measures to improve communication between GPs and oncologists. In fact, many studies demonstrated that patients often feel like they need to separately arrange appointments with both practitioners to meet their needs, suggesting improvements are much needed.

 

 

Written By: Samuel Rochette, M.Sc

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