Knowledge Is Power for Patients

Author: John Monczunski

Knowledge is power, the saying goes. And it might be good medicine. A recent study conducted by Notre Dame’s Walther Cancer Research Center found that cancer patients who were better informed about their condition sought and received more treatment, were more satisfied with their care and experienced fewer side effects to their therapies.

Unfortunately, while a well-informed patient may be more likely to do well, current trends in health care may work against that ideal, says Walther Center director Dr. Rudolph Navari. In recent years, more information via the Internet and other media and more promising new drugs than ever before have become available. But just at the time patients need more help making sense of it all, he says, managed health care has pressured physicians to spend less time answering their questions.

In hopes of offsetting those constraints, Navari developed educational tools and tested their effectiveness. Two-thirds of the sample of recently diagnosed cancer patients viewed a 35-minute video featuring vignettes on various forms of cancer and were given informational sheets that included key questions to ask their doctor. The approach imparts basic important information, allowing the physician more time to address areas of concern effectively.

“It’s important to be well-informed early on after the initial diagnosis beause that is when people make the critical decisions affecting their future,” Navari says. The associate dean of Notre Dame’s College of Science suggests that patients who received the educational material experienced fewer side effects "because they were knowledgeable early on about how to prevent them and when to get assistance. They didn’t wait three or four days when they became nauseous or had a fever, but got help quickly.

“We know this makes a difference in how patients do,” Navari says.

John Monczunski is an associate editor of this magazine.