Today marks the beginning of the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Quality Care Symposium. The word “quality” is tossed around a lot when it comes to medical care, but what does it mean?
To a person with cancer, “quality cancer care” may mean a chance to be cured of their disease and to be treated with respect and compassion. To a hospital administrator, it may mean that staff follows the highest standards of professionalism. They are up to date on the latest information, provide treatment that is based on guidelines accepted by peers, and there is ample communication between members of the cancer team with different specialties. To oncologists, it may mean putting the patient front and center and working collaboratively with colleagues to achieve the best possible outcome.
Many years ago, I took care of a college student with leukemia. She was deeply loved by her family and had a brilliant future ahead of her. As a mother myself, I imagined her mom was feeling intolerable levels of anguish and stress. So I asked if she would like to have a cup of tea and talk. She looked me straight in the eye, thanked me, and reassured me that she would be fine if and when her daughter was cured. “I appreciate your offer,” she said, “but I’m comfortable knowing that you are doing everything possible to save my daughter’s life.” This young woman’s story has a happy ending, and I share it here only to emphasize the fact that “quality” has many dimensions and interpretations. For this mother, quality meant knowing that everybody was doing their best to help her child.