Optimizing the contributions of the entire practice team

It is important to enlist the skills and resources of the entire healthcare team when caring for an oncology patient. Good communication and understanding of the practice’s oncology protocols within the team allow each member to provide the client with consistent information on the patient’s status, treatment plan, and outcomes. By “speaking with one voice,” the practice minimizes the potential for confusion and disillusionment of the client when an often sensitive oncology case is involved. An informed, empathetic team approach to presenting information empowers the client to make an educated decision on treatment options and helps create realistic expectations for treatment outcome, quality of life, and life expectancy.

The critical role of staff training

The entire healthcare team can contribute in a unified fashion to managing an oncology patient and supporting its owner. To accomplish this, a thoughtful approach must be taken to defining the roles and responsibilities of each staff member involved in an oncology case. Equally important, if not more so, is to conduct training to ensure that all staff members understand their responsibilities in such cases and have the skills and knowledge to carry them out. In particular, staff training is most effective when it addresses empathetic interaction with pet owners and safe handling of chemotherapy drugs. An expectation that all staff members will effectively contribute to oncology case management is not realistic unless they have been trained to do so. Practices should assess their training programs to ensure that the unique requirements of oncology treatment are specifically addressed. Useful recommendations for engaging and training the entire healthcare team to implement clinical protocols are provided in recently published feline healthcare guidelines.

Challenges and fulfillment for the healthcare team

Cancer treatment can be emotionally difficult for all concerned. For example, compassion fatigue is a phenomenon characterized by a gradual decline in interest and empathy toward individuals experiencing hardship. Compassion fatigue is real and can negatively impact the quality of care. Body language that conveys impatience, superficial interest, or false sincerity is readily perceived by the client. A team approach to oncology case management is an excellent way to combat compassion fatigue affecting an individual member. When each member of the team supports and complements each other, compassion fatigue is less likely to occur in the first place and other negative behavior patterns can be detected and discussed among the staff.

The opportunity to demonstrate compassionate care and possibly extend the life of a valued pet while offering empathy for its owner can make oncology cases some of the most fulfilling a veterinarian and the entire practice team will encounter. Treatment of a cancer patient is especially rewarding when the outcome is remission or cure, improved quality of life, or longer lifespan for the patient. Even in cases where a favorable outcome does not occur, the experience can still leave the client with a positive impression of the practice. This occurs when the healthcare team is perceived as united in its commitment to the patient’s welfare and genuinely concerned about the relationship between the pet and its owner.