Alberta Cancer Foundation

Person-centred Care Recognizes that No Two Cancer Experiences are Alike

Illustration by Scott Carmichael.

Dr. Linda Watson knows that patients are the experts in their own lives. And for patients to live as well as possible with cancer, it’s imperative to consider how those lives are lived outside the four walls of the cancer centre.

That’s where person-centred care comes in.

“Person-centred care is about integrating the patient’s life experience, as well as their symptoms and health concerns, into the care we provide,” explains Watson, scientific director of applied research and patient experience at CancerControl Alberta. “Person-centred care considers what other supports someone needs alongside their treatments.”

In the early 2000s, Alberta scientists identified that chemotherapy, radiation and surgery didn’t address all of a cancer patient’s needs.

“Person-centered care came from a psychosocial area, of trying to describe what those unmet needs were. Between 2005 and 2010, there was this growing momentum and this shift in care was happening everywhere across Canada,” says Watson, explaining that health-care providers began moving away from a disease-centric model of care.

Person-centred care addresses the individual challenges each patient experiences during their cancer journey, including challenges beyond those that can show up in a scan or blood test, like pain level, anxiety and fatigue.

One way this is delivered in Alberta is through a symptom-screening tool. In 2015, Watson and her team launched a form called Putting Patients First. By filling out the form, patients communicate what is concerning or troubling them, ranking symptoms like pain, nausea and fatigue, on a sliding scale. They also identify any emotional, social and practical concerns, which helps the health-care team refer them to other specialists including social workers, psychologists, palliative care specialists and more.

To understand patients’ well-being on a deeper level, the Putting Patients First tool has recently integrated technology. Now, a Patient Reported Outcome (PRO) Dashboard connects to an individual’s electronic medical record and those reported concerns are plotted in a colour-coded graph. This makes distress easily visible and easier to address. Currently, the team is working with Alberta Health Services to design a patient portal, which will allow patients to report their concerns from home, helping physicians better prepare for the next appointment.

The result is holistic care that considers each patient’s unique experience with their disease. In fact, interest in the Putting Patients First tool goes beyond cancer centres — and even beyond Alberta. “We are leveraging our learnings out to other provinces, in terms of how to graphically report this information and integrate it into care,” says Watson. “We are also bridging out of cancer, to other [medical specialties] that want to forge relationships with patients over time using a similar approach.

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