How good communication helps me deliver better care to my patients

People never want to be just a number, a chart or a diagnosis. They want their doctors to know them — to see them as real people and not just as patients.

That’s why the first thing I do when I meet a new patient is listen. I want to hear people’s stories, so I can find out what they’ve been through that has gotten them to this point.

Whether it’s an abnormal lab result, a suspicion of cancer, or a late-stage diagnosis that requires urgent treatment, my priority is opening up a line of communication. That way, not only can I figure out what’s going on; I can also start building trust by answering any questions patients might have and explaining the steps necessary to move forward.

Listening well is a critical part of caring for cancer patients

Doctors already have access to a fair amount of records they can review before seeing a new patient. But in my experience, it’s always better to get the story straight from the source. So, the first time I meet a patient, I always ask, “What brings you in to see me today?”

Our cancer patients are fighting for their lives, and they need to know that I understand this. So, I listen closely to what they have to say, and repeat any lab tests or scans necessary to confirm their cancer diagnoses before proceeding.

That last part is especially important, because the order of your treatments — and the type of treatment you get first — really matter. Each cancer treatment you select can affect your options further down the line, so you want to make sure you’re getting the right one first.

The MD Anderson difference: Multidisciplinary care by caring physicians

That’s also why it’s important to come to a place like MD Anderson. Other hospitals may offer multidisciplinary care, but the scale at which we do it is what makes us unique. Physicians from different specialties routinely come together at MD Anderson to discuss patients’ treatment options. And these experts consider the entire list of therapies and clinical trials available when creating personalized treatment plans for our patients.

We also connect with colleagues daily to ask questions and fine-tune our patients’ treatment plans. That constant interaction sharpens our ability to give patients the best possible care. And that can make a huge difference, whether you’re a brand-new patient, a patient whose cancer has returned, or a patient who has gone to other facilities and been told there’s nothing left to be done.

Bringing top-quality care closer to home

One thing I hear more and more frequently — particularly as a genitourinary surgeon at MD Anderson in Sugar Land — is that patients love the fact that MD Anderson care is available closer to them. That’s true whether it’s through one of our Houston locations or other hospital systems through MD Anderson Cancer Network®.

MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus can be a bit daunting, so for patients to be able to get that same level of care closer to home is breaking down a lot of barriers. Certain therapies require patients to go back and forth to a doctor’s office several times in a week or month. And for people who live quite a distance away, that can make or break their decision about where to get treatment.

Good rapport means better cancer care

I always enjoy seeing patients in clinic. But it delights me, too, when I notice their visits becoming more widely spaced out. That usually means their care is going very well. And when that happens, their check-ups often become more social visits than anything else. Over time, those can get to be very personal.

I have several patients who talk to me regularly about their kids, spouses and social lives. Just the other day, I was speaking with one about our respective vacation plans.

But that makes perfect sense to me. Because everyone wants to have a great rapport with their doctors. So, having a window into my life as a person — not just a physician — strengthens that bond. With every communication, my patients are learning a bit more about me and I’m learning a bit more about them. That’s another reason why listening well is such a crucial part of my job. After all, we’re on this journey together.

Lisly Chery, M.D., is a urologic surgeon at MD Anderson.

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