January 2020Milestones

Seeing the person behind a cancer diagnosis is the focus of award-winning JGH research

A research publication, whose authors include three members of nursing staff in the Segal Cancer Centre at the JGH, has been singled out for excellence by the Canadian Association of Nurses in Oncology (CANO).

The publication, which clearly underscores the importance of attending to the hopes, needs and unique qualities of individuals affected by cancer, was voted one of the two most significant pieces of Canadian research to have made a major clinical contribution in the previous year.

Published in the Canadian Oncology Nursing Journal in 2018, it was honoured as Best Publication this past fall in Winnipeg at CANO’s annual conference.

Delivering person-centred care means going beyond medical treatment and personalizing care according to individuals’ needs and context, including the environment where the care is provided, says Dr. Carmen Loiselle, senior author of the paper.

“Even the term ‘cancer patient’ does not sit well with the study participants we spoke with,” says Dr. Loiselle, who is Co-Director (Academic) of the Segal Cancer Centre, Scientific Director of Hope & Cope, and Professor of Oncology and Nursing at McGill University.

“Individuals undergoing treatment told us they were much more than their cancer: ‘I am a person who happens to have been diagnosed with cancer.’ So we now refer to patients as ‘individuals with cancer.’

“Person-centred care also goes beyond the patient to encompass a loved one or caregiver who has felt the psychosocial effects of a cancer diagnosis.”

“The importance of humanizing care can easily be forgotten in busy, fast-changing oncology settings, but it remains a crucial matter for patients.”

Joining Dr. Loiselle in documenting these findings were Erin Cook, Clinical Administrative Coordinator of Oncology and Cardiovascular Services, and Co-Director of Operations at the Segal Cancer Centre; Lucie Tremblay, Nurse Clinician and Assistant Head Nurse in Oncology at the Segal Cancer Centre; and Chloe Grover and Erin Mackasey, former Master’s students in Nursing at McGill.

In addition, Dr. Loiselle explains, “one thing that came out of this paper is almost counter-intuitive: We are taught in universities to be very professional, which means that patients can disclose details to us, but we have to be more reserved.

“However, patients told us they really enjoy mutual disclosure. This means they still talk about themselves, but they find it more engaging when healthcare providers relate to them as persons and discuss their own interests beyond the medical world. This makes clinical encounters much more human.”

Although more personalized approaches to care make good sense, they need to continue to be researched before being given the stamp of approval, Dr. Loiselle says. “By documenting it and disseminating the findings, we give legitimacy to patients’ voices.

“We also re-sensitize healthcare providers to the importance of humanizing care. This can easily be forgotten in busy, fast-changing oncology settings, but it remains a crucial matter for patients.”

As the next step, Dr. Loiselle hopes to look more closely at other healthcare facilities in CIUSSS West-Central Montreal to determine how closely patients’ perceptions and needs are aligned with the care that is being provided.

“The strength of our research is that the questions we ask are solidly grounded in the realities of various clinical settings,” she notes. “I’m delighted that person-centred care is increasingly being informed by evidence and is becoming an inherent part of day-to-day care.

“Integrating the voices of patients and significant others individuals in our cancer care initiatives can only be a win-win for everyone.”

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