Moffitt Onco Update

Pathology Getting Personal: Bridging the Gap

December 01, 2017

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By 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 doublecheck 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.

Originally published in the December 2017 issue of www.thepathologist.com.

Click here to read the full feature in The Pathologist magazine.