Exceptional Care: Lessons, Redefining the Standard of Care

By | May 16, 2011

I think that if you can look at a cancer patient in pain and not see a direct moral challenge, you should find another line of work.











While the story of Jane and her journey from pain to relief may have been interesting, you could also say that it was a bit hubristic. I mean, what’s so special about putting an intrathecal pump in a patient with pancreatic cancer? It is done hundreds if not thousands of times each year in cities and towns all over America. Furthermore the vast majority of these patients do very well, at least as well as Jane.

I think that the most disturbing thing about this case is that I or anyone else should consider it exceptional. The problem to put it bluntly is that the care that often passes for acceptable shouldn’t. I believe that the care of a cancer victim, who moans in constant pain or languishes in the drug-induced stupor of chronic oral opiate medication, should be considered deficient. I believe that if you can look at a cancer patient in pain and not see it a moral challenge and a personal call to action, you should find another line of work. I believe that treatment that Jane received should not be considered exceptional, but merely the standard of care! In some places it is!

It is clear that the care of patients with cancer pain varies widely across the country. If you suffer from cancer pain and live in Phoenix, Arizona you may be lucky enough to meet Lisa Stearns. Lisa runs a busy private pain management practice that is about 70% cancer related. She sees patients from all walks of life. She covers 3 hospitals and nearly the entire metropolitan area. Lisa provides care for pain from cancer, pain from therapy and pain in cancer survivors. Lisa provides continuing care, physical therapy and psychological support. She educates patients and lectures physicians, mostly on her dime. Lisa is the largest implanter of pain pumps in the country. When Lisa gets a call about a new patient with malignant pain the longest acceptable wait is till tomorrow and even that she finds upsetting. Lisa Stearns is not just a physician. She is a crusader, a fanatic, a visionary. Her patients call her a saint. I guess that the ultimate question is, “If Lisa Stearns can do this on a daily basis in Scottsdale, what’s our miserable excuse?”

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