Patient – doctor relationship is an important factor for “exceptional survival”
With the continued advances in technologies to detect cancer early and treat patients effectively (including improvements in radiation and chemotherapy regimens, surgical techniques, biological modalities, and gene therapy), the number of individuals living years beyond a cancer diagnosis is expected to continue increasing. Unfortunately, not all patients are cured. On the other hand, among patients with such a dismal prognosis, some survive much longer than expected. These patients are considered “exceptional patients” since they survive for extended periods that cannot be explained by the nature of their disease or treatment.
Few studies have explained the factors that promote exceptional survival. Most of the literature concentrates on the improvement of the patient’s quality of life with improved patient-doctor communication. However, no data are available to determine whether improved patient-doctor communication affects the survival of cancer patients.
In an attempt to gather information and data about the subject, the researchers of the study “Exceptional patients and communication in cancer care—are we missing another survival factor?” explored the perceptions of exceptional patients and conducted a qualitative study in USA and Israel. Twenty-nine patients with cancer were included in the study. 
Some patients described a savior-physician, who was sensitive to their emotional needs and decisive. Others reported that the attitude of the physician is at least as important as his medical knowledge and that doctors are the most important component of healthcare.
Compassion, availability, honesty, being sensitive and calm, decisive, with internal cheerfulness combined with being present, were the qualities of the physician which were described by the patients. The exceptional physician was described as professional and determined, with a sensitive and personal approach. The data of the study suggested that certain characteristics in the patient-doctor relationship and a physician’s unique qualities might play a major role in cancer patients’ survival.
This research emphasized patient-centered care and enhanced the added value of the unique relationship between health providers and patients. Leaders of health care education should consider mentioning this issue into forums of discussion that might enlighten students and health care professionals in understanding patient-centered care and the value of communication and healing.
- Frenkel M et al. Exceptional patients and communication in cancer care – are we missing another survival factor? Supportive Care in Cancer 2016;24:4249-4255.
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