A Healthy Dose of Empathy in Financial Counseling for Cancer Patients

Posted in Advocacy, Cancer Care by ACCCBuzz on May 14, 2012

by Don Jewler, Director of Communications, ACCC

How would you conduct a conversation about money with a cancer patient and his or her family?

With empathy advises Catherine Credeur, LMSW, OSW-C, a social worker at LSU Health Shreveport. She presented the May 8 ACCC webinar, “Patient Counseling 101,” where close to 200 participants learned how to deliver financial assistance in a thoughtful and sensitive manner.

Credeur defines empathy for patients and family as the foundation for serving. Meet your patients where they are and connect with them in a way that matches their current needs, she said. Patients tend to trust you more easily with the sensitive matters of their finances when they feel your concern for them as people.

Credeur emphasized the need to respect dignity. “It’s hard for many people to admit they are unable to financially provide for their own needs or for the needs of a loved one. To respect dignity is to acknowledge the partnership that is part of the financial counseling process.”

According to ACCC’s recent survey, cancer programs report an increase in the volume of charity care patients as well as an increased number of uninsured or underinsured chemotherapy patients. To accommodate patients who are not able to pay, hospitals are using financial counselors, sometimes dedicated solely to oncology. These financial counselors offer strategies to help patients maintain control of their finances so they can better focus energies on treatment and recovery.

“Financial counselors are an integral part of the healing process for patients,” said Credeur. “Financial counseling in oncology care involves a threat to life and lifestyle and complex emotions we have about money. Your adeptness at understanding and managing the emotional responses to this double threat will make a difference in how your patients access the care they need.”

Credeur starts with an assessment of the needs that her patients have identified. She adds her own ideas about resources they may not have realized were available, and asks if the goals the patient is establishing really meet their needs. She prioritizes goals together with the patient and engages in active follow-up to reinforce compliance. She helps to identify barriers to compliance and creates an alternate route to getting the patient’s needs met.

After all, the objective of patient counseling, says Credeur, is to meet your patient’s needs.

As part of The Financial Information and Learning Network, the Association of Community Cancer Centers is hosting a series of webinars designed to train staff in financial counseling services. The online “courses” are focused along the continuum of “beginner” to “expert.” Participants have the option to take courses in order from Course 1 to Course 10, or select only those courses of interest. The course in its entirety can be used to train staff new to cancer and/or financial counseling services. In addition, ACCC has a number of downloadable resources on active listening, communicating with compassion, dealing with anger expressed by patients and families, and best ways to phrase your statements.

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