Bridging the Patient Care Gap
Patient-centered pathology from the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the laboratory bench
Linda Sejour |
Experiencing patient-centered care
I first encountered patient-centered care when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. I had been working in the histology department at Moffitt Cancer Center for two years when I received the news. I had just had a mammogram at another facility and was given the all-clear, but my supervisor at Moffitt urged me to get another mammogram there, and that second test found cancer. I was shocked. For a brief moment, I thought it might be a false positive – but it wasn’t. After further testing, I had all the faith in the world that my diagnosis was accurate, because I know how personally the pathologists at my institution take each slide they review. Every pathologist I know wants to find disease, treat it, and stop it in its tracks. They all want to save their patients’ lives.
In my view, patient-centered pathology means looking at each slide or specimen as a patient, rather than just a tissue sample. Moffitt pathologists double-check everything they see to make sure they detect anything that could be wrong – they’re like a CSI group! The pathologists really put themselves in the patient’s shoes. They make sure the physician has everything they need to share a diagnosis with the patient. Pathologists’ work saves and extends lives, and it’s important for patients to be aware of that.
As a histotechnologist myself, I know that I feel every part of the patient in the cell tissue cassette. I see the whole picture – the person themselves, rather than just the sample. Sometimes I cry when I know somebody is going to receive a cancer diagnosis, especially if I know it is a young patient. Even if I don’t see them, I feel a genuine connection to every one of my patients.
Words to remember
I think it’s important to make patients aware that pathologists are the doctors who actually make the diagnoses. We care about the patient; we respect the patient; we want the very best for the patient. And the best way to make sure they know that is to build trust with them. A disease diagnosis – especially one as difficult and emotionally charged as cancer – is something very personal to talk about. By engaging with them and being open and honest, we become a vital link in the chain of patient care and support.
Trust is the lifeline from the patient to the pathologist. In many cases, the patient hasn’t met their pathologist personally; they just have a piece of paper bearing a diagnosis. In my case, I was lucky. I worked in the laboratory of my own cancer center, so I could speak with the pathologists directly, but not everyone has that advantage. The laboratory is often a hidden piece of the puzzle, but that doesn’t serve anyone’s best interests – pathologists should step into the spotlight and speak to patients! Open your doors. Get on social media. Let patients see you. It makes such a difference to us as patients to know the people who have saved our lives and our health.