Dr Martin suggested that records of patients with language needs should be flagged ‘at risk’ so that clinicians check carefully to ensure that appropriate translation services are in place. She also proposed that, given the growing complexity of lung cancer treatments, specialised training should be given to interpreters at cancer clinics.
“It is important that interpreters can accurately explain the diagnosis and treatment options at all stages of the disease so that patients can make really informed decisions and, with the rise in virtual consultations as a result of COVID-19, we need to work out the best approach for overcoming language barriers in that setting too,” she concluded.
Wake-up call to all healthcare professionals
Commenting on the findings of the two studies, Professor Sanjay Popat, from the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK, said that the results should be a wake-up call to all healthcare professionals involved in the care of patients with lung and other cancers to get processes in place to ensure effective communication.
“The statistics from the GLCC survey paint a bleak picture and at least 11% of patients not knowing their type of lung cancer is a very damning statistic. We want patients to be empowered to make decisions about how and where they want to be treated and that can only happen if we have good communication at all stages, with shared aims and goals,” he said.
“If we can’t get the basics right, it will be very difficult to ensure that patients understand the increasingly complex issues about their treatment options and possible side-effects, particularly the ‘red flag’ side-effects they need to tell us about immediately,” he added.
Prof. Popat pointed out that the Dublin research underlines the need for experienced medical translators in an increasingly cosmopolitan society and the importance of 24/7 professional services, especially for patients being treated in hospital.
“The key thing is for everyone to know these translation services exist and to make use of them. Relying on family members to translate is not good practice. We need translators who know how to talk about difficult subjects such as prognosis and end of life care, and can help us understand cultural sensitivities so that we give information in an appropriate way,” said Prof Popat.
Patient support groups
He highlighted the growing range of patient support groups for patients with lung cancer facing communication or language barriers. These groups specialise in providing information and support for specific types of the disease, such as ALK+ and EGFR mutation-positive non-small cell lung cancers.
“In many countries these specialist groups are becoming established to provide a lot of background information about these specific types of lung cancer and the kind of questions patients need to ask and what they should be expecting as part of their care. It all helps to ensure that communication about complex issues is as good as it can be in what is likely to be a very stressful situation for patients,” Prof Popat said.