Question patients about quality of life

"Given the nature of your illness, what makes you feel good now?" "What does 'feeling good' mean to you?" "What are your strong points? Your talents?"

These are the type of questions that can help physicians and patients, especially chronic disease sufferers, cut to the chase sooner during medical encounters--and reveal other physical or psychosocial problems, such as depression or sleep disruption, that might otherwise be missed.

According to a new a paper in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings, authored by Elizabeth A. Hahn, a medical sociologist at Northwestern University, a systemic quality-of-life assessment can be used to make treatment adjustments to reduce upsetting side effects or plan next steps based on a fuller understanding of a patient's concerns. For example, a patient with early-stage prostate cancer may choose "watchful waiting" instead of surgery to minimize the risk of sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence.

Although having a more complete understanding of a patient's problems won't necessarily enable a physician to fix everything, such as physical limitations due to arthritis, it can help doctor and patient work together to manage a 'new normal,' Jackson Rainer, professor of psychology at Georgia Southern University, told the New York Times. "Quality of life depends on how well you can integrate new circumstances into your life," he said.

Ideally, responsiveness is a two-way street. As pointed out by Kevin Fontaine, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, quality-of-life discussions may help patients recognize steps they could be taking to feel better, such as losing weight or trying a new activity.

To learn more:
- read the article in the New York Times
- see the paper in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings
- read an article in The Mayo Clinic Proceedings