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Client Care in Patient Cancer Treatment

Clinician's Brief (Capsule)


|April 2016

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Diagnosis and treatment decisions for a cancer patient can be significant challenges for both the veterinarian and client. In this study, 94 owners from a Facebook Pet Cancer Support Group completed a questionnaire about their experience and perceptions; the objective was to develop a better understanding of client needs, wants, and satisfaction in terms of interaction with veterinarians. About 77% of respondents were satisfied with their veterinarians. There were strong positive correlations between client satisfaction level and both information about treatment options and support received from the veterinarian. 

There were several key findings in this study: First, clients valued problem-based informational support, including educational communication and open discussion of treatment options. It was important that clients be engaged in the management process and not feel pressured into decisions. Second, clients valued tangible support in terms of care, accessibility, and emotional investment. Examples include extra time during appointments, after-hours availability, and phone and email communications. Third, emotion-focused support (eg, compassion, caring demeanor) was not necessarily expected or desired from veterinarians, compared to the other forms of support. Veterinary education should include multiple methods to teach communication skills so that students develop the confidence and competence to satisfy client needs.

Global Commentary

As veterinarians, we focus on delivering the best cancer care—a feature of daily veterinary life—to each patient. Best, however, is a team decision, not exclusive to patient, owner, or veterinarian. Owners want demystification of cancer; clear and understandable answers that put the patient first; reassurance that appropriate care is available (from simple palliative tablets to innovative multimodal solutions); empowerment that a support system exists; and ultimately that the veterinarian, and perhaps more importantly, the whole team, cares. We focus on the needs of the animal, but do we really understand the needs of the owner? 

People who tackle their own cancer with a strong network of well-informed and empathetic supporters are more prepared and positive about their future than solitary individuals, fighting the system as well as fighting their disease. This study attempts to unravel the interplay between problem-centered support and emotion-centered support in modern cancer care, from an owner’s perspective; the ability of the veterinary care team to engage the owner, offer low-pressure options, be accessible, allowing the clients to actively manage their pet’s cancer in a less uncertain environment. The lessons from this research will be valuable in understanding the threads of relationship-centered care and its cornerstones and frailties. Such insight may also prevent the veterinarians of tomorrow from focusing solely on the patient’s illness and, instead, embrace the scientific, emotional, and very human complexities of modern veterinary oncology.—Nick Bacon, MA, VetMB, CertVR, CertSAS, DECVS, DACVS, MRCVS


For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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