Three Best Practices for Welcoming New Cancer Patients


Onboarding new oncology patients can be a delicate process to help them prepare for their care journey. Here are the first steps.

When patients receive a cancer diagnosis, they’re reeling emotionally. Thus, there’s no “right time” to welcome them to your practice.

In response, Northwest Medical Specialties in Puyallup, Washington, has structured its process of welcoming patients and setting expectations for the care journey ahead.

Following are three things the multispecialty practice does to ease patients into their care journey:

  • Create a welcome binder

Northwest Medical Specialties’ welcome binder is faux-leather bound and has the practice’s logo embossed on it.

The binder is structured as a tool for the patient to keep track of the records that document their care in the practice. The practice chose a faux-leather cover for two reasons: It looked important and official while not costing a lot of money.

Organized by sections, the binder orients patients about who to call and when and where they call if, for example, they have a fever or experience other treatment-related side effects.

Jessa Dunivan, patient services manager, says that patients who have recently received a cancer diagnosis remember 20% of what they’re told when they first arrive at the practice. That’s because it can be an emotionally overwhelming experience. The welcome binder, which patients can access at home or during their visits, is a useful resource if their fever spikes or they experience nausea or vomiting.

  2.  Carve out time to welcome new patients

New patients are met by their care navigator for 30 minutes. That’s before they have their initial visit with their oncologist, says Dunivan.

This allows the care navigator to establish trust with a patient, she adds. A practical way to get a patient to open up in this first meeting is to ask an open-ended question, such as “What do you need help with?” If the patient says she needs help opening her mail, do that for her, recommends Dunivan.

A patient may have lost their job or not have transportation to and from appointments-and both scenarios can have an impact on their health. That’s why you need to ask open-ended questions, she adds.

Sometimes patients are so overwhelmed that they’ll politely refuse this initial face-to-face meeting with their care navigator or they’ll just stare with a blank look on their face. With these patients, Dunivan provides a brief introduction to the practice and the welcome binder and then follows up in a few days to ask if they’ve had a chance to review it.

  3.  Be open-minded

Dunivan says she doesn’t look at the patient’s diagnosis before she participates in one of the welcome visits. She doesn’t want to skew her perception of the patient and their needs. Her job, she says, is to make sure the patient knows she’s there to help them navigate through their journey at the practice.

This is also important for patients’ families, she says. They want to know that someone at the practice cares about their loved one and that if an issue comes up-such as distress or financial stress related to their cancer treatment-that she will help connect them with the right resources.

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