Back in January, ASCO released a new policy statement on the need for candid discussions with patients about the full range of palliative care and treatment options after diagnosis with advanced cancer. It certainly frames the importance of the issue appropriately, and later this year ASCO is expected to issue its first clinical guidance to help oncologists initiate these conversations and better integrate palliative therapy into practice.
With the inherently difficult nature of conversations about end-of-life care, certainly there’s reluctance to talk about the issues. It’s sometimes an overlooked part of oncology care, hence the recent stream of information from ASCO on the subject, including a patient information guide as well.
The delicate and personal facets of the palliative care conversation make it an ideal talk to begin in social media – IF your patients desire, of course. And many of them do. It’s yet another reason it’s critical for oncology clinicians to become involved and familiar with all aspects of social.
Think about the unvarnished dialogue that social media empowers people to have. In some cases it’s anonymous dialogue, and in some cases it’s extremely identifiable. Think about the communities of like-minded individuals who gather for, discuss and act upon an endless and limitless list of topics – including cancer. In cancer care we have My Cancer Place, Cancer Support Community, Know Cancer, and many more. Many times, fellow patients and survivors are the first people to whom newly diagnosed patients want to turn, not their clinicians.
In some cases, it’s the unvarnished, harsh answers people seek. In some cases, it’s the freedom to seek information anonymously and be honest without desire to be known. And in many cases, it’s friends and relatives seeking information on behalf of others.
It’s meeting those informational needs where you can transcend the physician-patient relationship and provide information that’s valuable. Information that burnishes your personal brand and creates wider expertise and social capital.
With very little effort, you can share palliative care information and resources on Twitter or on your website. You can invite comments and questions via Facebook and Twitter. You can post answers to anonymous questions submitted via email. Or even questions you thought of that patients commonly ask. It doesn’t even have to be clinical guidance, but direction on where to find additional resources. It’s information that I’m sure people in need desire to have.
In the policy statement, ASCO lists a provider initiative as increasing awareness for the importance of establishing an individualized treatment plan for all patients and families. While clinicians certainly provide the most critical input to that plan, today’s empowered patients handle a good deal of the education themselves. So I recommend a treatment plan for your practice that includes sharing information on palliative care via social media, and welcoming any dialogue on the topic that occurs there.