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The importance of good communication

Effective communication skills are a key aspect of quality medical care. Watch this case study to view an example of a doctor-patient consultation.
Hi, Martina. It’s good seeing you today. How are you? Tired. Yeah. Tired. Now, I know it’s a few months after your last treatment. How are you feeling?
Overwhelmed. In the hospital, I had all this support around me. And I knew what was happening and how it was all working together. But yeah, I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to be doing or anything, yeah. Yeah, it’s very common for patients with cancer to be overwhelmed at this point of time. And just to let you know, last week, I received the survivorship care plan for the hospital. Did you receive a copy as well? Yeah, I did. It didn’t necessarily make it any clearer. There’s so much information. Yeah, there is a lot of information. And I guess part of today is answering questions that you may have from the care plan.
Look, how I see the survivorship care plan from the hospital– it’s like a map– a map of what things we need to do now, a year’s time, five years’ time, so that we can really give you complete care. Just with the care plan, are there any particular things that you want to talk about from the care plan? Just knowing what I need to do and how do I go about– yeah, how do I go about accessing services or what services I need to be focusing on. So you mentioned being overwhelmed. Tell me about your energy levels. I’m exhausted more days than not. I’m finding it really frustrating. I can’t do much without feeling really tired.
So being exhausted– that is, again, very common. It’s part of your treatment. But I guess one of the things that we want to do in general practice is give you services, support services, to help you get back to normal and, yeah, get back to work. Oh, good. Do you know of any support services in the community? I mean, I’ve heard had stuff being discussed when I was in hospital. But I’m not quite sure which is the best path to go down. So the hospital probably mentioned support organisations like Cancer Council, BCNA– Breast Cancer Network Australia. Yeah. But one of the things in general practice, there’s all these other support services we can provide. So you mentioned you were tired, exhausted.
So we might consider seeing a dietitian or exercise physiologist. What are your thoughts about that? Great. And is that something you help me organise? Yeah, no, no, definitely. And that’s where it’s not only me. But we also have our general practice nurse. One of the ideas I had was next week, we should make an appointment with you to see our practice nurse, Jackie. And using the hospital survivorship care plan, we’re going to generate our own care plan, the general practice manage plan. That’s going to give you all the services that you need. So Barry would like to be part of that conversation. He and the kids are really keen to support me.
So can he come to the appointment with me and help? Yeah, certainly. Our primary focus is you. But it’s important that, yeah, with family and carers, they might have concerns. And they can see me at any time. But, yeah, they can actually come to the appointment next week but what Jackie will also do, she’ll have a number of questions. And obviously take the points from the care plan. But she’ll also maybe ask some questions about your mood. How is your mood? Some days, I feel crazier than others. You might want to ask the family. I– yeah. I’m just feeling so tired, yeah, I’m up and down. And I don’t know.
Yeah, look, with many patients with cancer, that can be, yeah, very much parcel of your journey with cancer. Among other things, again, with what Jackie can do, she might recommend that you see a psychologist. And again, we can organise a referral to a psychologist that we’re going to assist you with some of the concerns that you’ve raised. So if I’ve got any concerns about how I’m feeling or anything like that, who’s my first contact? Well, one of, I think, part of now this shared care is now you’re going to transition back to both hospital and general practice care. You’re going to be seeing me and the practice. So that any concerns at any time, come and see me.
Book an appointment. If I’m not here, one my colleagues, or particularly, Jackie, yeah, the nurse, she’s going to know about what items or issues that you have. And she can actually hand that over to me. So we’re going to be your main contact point as well. Excellent. OK. Martina, how about we’ll take you over. And I’ll walk you over to the reception desk. We’ll make sure you have that appointment with Jackie. And I’ll see you next time. Excellent. Thanks, Justin. OK. Thanks, Martina. Yeah.

After watching the scene above, and observing how Justin communicates with Martina, we’d like you to take a moment to reflect on your own communication style.

Think about your own communication style. Do you think you would be described as a person who displays effective communication skills?

Complete this short online self-assessment questionnaire to see how your reflections measure up: The Communication Quiz

Were you surprised by the results? After completing the quiz, you may wish to share your results in the comments section below

It’s important to remember that good communication with your patient is a key aspect of quality care, however, communication between health professionals is particularly important in cancer survivorship/care due to its multidisciplinary nature. For example, a patient who previously underwent treatment for breast cancer might have been treated or cared for by a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, breast cancer nurse or physiotherapist. Therefore, it is not always clear to whom the patient should be referred back, or to whom you should consult with when your patient has a problem.

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Cancer Survivorship for Primary Care Practitioners

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