BBC News reported today on a Teenage Cancer Trust warning to Doctors to not rule out cancer when diagnosing younger patients after a survey of 400 young cancer patients suggested that >60% of young sufferers believe they could have been diagnosed earlier:
“One in four cancer patients told a Trust survey they had to visit their GP at least four times before their symptoms were taken seriously… …Every year in the UK 2,100 people aged between 13 and 24 are told they have cancer. It’s the number one cause of non-accidental death. …Laura Saunders, from Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 when she was just 18 years old. She told Newsbeat that for more than a year doctors kept dismissing her symptoms… …’I didn’t have a period for a year, I was constantly bloated, constantly tired… …My stomach stretched so far that I have stretch marks but they said I was just stressed’ she said… …Laura eventually started vomiting and was taken to the accident and emergency department at her local hospital. She was so dehydrated that she needed two blood transfusions. A day later, she was told that she had cancer and that specialists found a germ cell tumour on her ovary… …I was told on the phone that I had cancer and it was definitely the most devastating part of it… …The Teenage Cancer Trust claims Laura’s story resonates with many young sufferers who weren’t diagnosed for months. Susie Rice works for the charity and said: ‘Young people are experts at their own bodies. If there is something wrong with them, if they think there’s a lump or a swelling, they must speak to their GP… …And the job for the GP is to listen to these people and take them seriously’ she added… …for Laura, getting over cancer has been a long haul – though she’s now fully recovered. ‘You know your own body and if you know you’re not feeling right then you need to be persistent. You need to keep going back whether you become a nuisance or not. That’s what you want in the end because you want them to take notice of you’ she said”
I think that it’s deplorable that a patient who’s been through such a battle has to tell others to “keep going back whether you become a nuisance or not” just to get Doctors to take notice of them.
But I also can’t help but think that the problem that underlies much of this is not about diagnosis but about history taking and that there is an enormous opportunity that the Healthcare IT industry has to use technology to overcome these issues, improve the patient experience and achieve better outcomes.
Adolescent cancer is so rare that it’s hardly any surprise that young people (who typically haven’t had any prior health concerns) have any idea how to effectively share their important health information with a Primary Care GP. This is another very good reason that I continually advocate for the use of quality patient history taking tools as a means of adding safety and effectiveness to Doctor/Patient consultations.
To learn more about these tools please watch the following video of Dr John Bachman, Professor of Primary Care at the Mayo Clinic, where he explains his experience using Instant Medical History (the patient history taking software we integrated in the 3G Doctor service back in 2006) with 4000 of his patients:
After watching the video I think you’ll agree that whilst every GP in the UK and Ireland has a very good understanding of the symptoms associated with cancer, there are 2 very different informational experiences:
1) A time pressured Doctor taking a history and consulting with yet another young person in a primary care setting who is presenting with symptoms that are typically related to something much more familiar.
2) The same patient being given all the time they would like to share their important information with their Doctor before meeting. The same Doctor being presented with a concise written documentation containing a complete list of symptoms that their patient is experiencing before they actually meet with the patient. The Doctor filing a comprehensive digital record of the consultation in the patients records. The Patient being given a comprehensive written report of the consultation including all of the symptoms they described and the Doctors advice.