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Dr. Julia Overstreet

Although I am a physician, I am not a cancer specialist. And I can tell you that the story above was just as true for me. I am both a breast cancer survivor and an ovarian cancer survivor. When you're the patient, it doesn't matter how educated you are ... your brain shifts into another gear altogether. Now you are THE PATIENT. You may know the meaning of the words they are saying, but your brain only hears part of it. The comments in the article above are so true.


You raise a very important point about the value of health literacy. Through years of social media analysis, I have seen time and again that patients too often just don't digest the information they are given by physicians in those key office visits. As a result, their expectations are not properly set. Without an understanding of known side effects, the result can be that patients don't take the medication as directed or discontinue altogether. As you point out, health literacy is key to bridging this gap.

Julia A. Olff, MBA, CHES, Director, Health Education Encore, a HealthEd company

There are so many examples of information overload and decision-making challenges cancer patients face. I’ve just begun reading “The Patient from Hell: HOW I WORKED WITH MY DOCTORS TO GET THE BEST OF MODERN MEDICINE AND HOW YOU CAN TOO”, by Stephen H. Schneider, Ph.D. who recently passed away from mantle cell lymphoma. Dr. Schneider was a professor of biological science at Stanford University, a MacArthur Prize Fellowship winner, and an expert in climate change. Similar to how Dr. Overstreet described her experience, Dr. Schneider had scientific training and knowledge interpreting outcomes data, however he was still “scared to death” at first. Because of his analytical training, he was able to apply that expertise to ask challenging questions of his medical team, and request what he felt were beneficial changes in his treatment. Dr. Schneider advocated learning everything one can about one’s disease and then partnering with your doctor to choose the treatment they believe can offer the greatest chance of success. But for the average person, being able to advocate for himself is contingent upon his ability to become well informed about his disease and treatment options. So much of what patients hear and read is too complex for them to make use of; this is the gap we need to address.

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