Doctors Should Seek Context for Accurate Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Personalized medicine follows the concept that a patient’s specific characteristics, such as height, weight, gender, age, physical condition and especially their genetic makeup, can be used to tailor their medical care.  Personalized medicine is becoming more favored within the medical community, but one study shows that one aspect of personalized care that may be overlooked […]

Personalized medicine follows the concept that a patient’s specific characteristics, such as height, weight, gender, age, physical condition and especially their genetic makeup, can be used to tailor their medical care.  Personalized medicine is becoming more favored within the medical community, but one study shows that one aspect of personalized care that may be overlooked by doctors is the “context” of the patient’s ailments. In the case of mesothelioma sufferers, it is critical that doctors seek to understand the patients’ work history and lifestyle to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure, and since the symptoms of the disease are often confused with other conditions, knowing that a patient has been exposed to asbestos in the past can speed the diagnosis.  The earlier the disease is accurately diagnosed, the better the survival odds are for the patient.

The importance of context in patient diagnosis and treatment prompted a research study headed by Dr. Saul Weiner, a physician at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago. His study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July 2010.

The study showed that the majority of doctors did not attempt to understand patient context and that the potential for resulting medical errors was high. Misdiagnosis or faulty care can result. More than 100 doctors participated in the study where medical actors posed as patients, and presented doctors with contexts of biomedical and situational red flags. The study found that doctors missed key information 62-88% of the time.

Even the President’s Cancer Panel, in their report “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk — What We Can Do Now” presented to President Obama, included a recommendation suggesting “physicians and other medical personnel should routinely query patients about their previous and current workplace and home environments as part of the standard medical history.”

Patient-centric treatment optimizes the potential for success of a patient’s care by offering the right treatment at the right time. This is especially vital for mesothelioma patients as the disease rapidly progresses to cause life-threatening complications, and can differ dramatically across patients.  Doctors that take the time to listen to their patients and probe to find the context of their condition may ultimately provide better care for their patients.

 

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