Pivotal moment shapes physician’s patient-centered care
While she was a physician in training in Chicago, Sairah Ahmed, M.D., was struck by the similarities between her and a young leukemia patient. Both were intelligent, goal-oriented American women of south Asian descent. They were even the same age. They met and got to know each other throughout the patient’s chemotherapy, hospital stays and toxicity checks.
“She was the only child. Beloved by her parents, aunts, uncles and entire family,” Ahmed says, recalling the patient who made a profound impact on her when she was just a fellow. “She was their world.”
Precious time, spent the patient’s way
When the woman’s cancer relapsed, Ahmed talked with her about next steps. Ahmed remembers a conversation they had in the ICU in which the woman confided that she did not want to die in the hospital.
“She didn’t want to add to her parents’ pain by telling them she was ready to go home,” Ahmed recalls. “She knew they wanted more treatments for her. I talked to her parents about what she wanted and started the conversation for her.”
The patient decided to go home and was there for a while, before returning to the hospital, where she eventually passed away.
“Her mom, dad, aunts and uncles thanked me for talking to them,” Ahmed says. “They appreciated the time they had at home with their daughter, saying they were some of her best days.”
Because of that experience, Ahmed builds relationships with each of her patients at MD Anderson by having open and honest conversations about what’s important to them and advocating to ensure their care supports their priorities.
Patients’ priorities come first
Ahmed, an associate professor in Lymphoma/Myeloma, has goal concordant care conversations early in her patients’ care, and often, because things change.
Whether it’s about preserving their fertility, continuing their favorite activities or setting aside time to make memories, talking through things gets the patient, their loved ones and their care team members on the same page so they can move forward to the next step together, she says.
Goal concordant care is holding and documenting conversations about what matters most to patients throughout their care.
“Having cancer can mean feeling betrayed by your body,” Ahmed says. “When patients have their needs heard, and prioritized, it restores a small sense of control. We can do right by each patient by making sure we are asking about and being respectful of their individual priorities.”
She’s proud of the progress MD Anderson teams have made with communication skills training, new tools and process improvement.
The most rewarding part? What her patients tell her.
“They are vocal about appreciating these conversations,” she says. “They trust they will get honest answers so we can make decisions together on what’s best for them no matter what.”