Last summer the editor of MM's sister magazine Insurance Conference Planner told us that her husband, Joe, had cancer. In facing this crisis, Joe and Regina redefined the word proactive. Joe built a Web site (http://orbit.unh.edu/cancer) for cancer patients and their loved ones. When I visited the site, I knew someone who loved teaching had designed it. (In fact, Joseph F. Durocher, PhD, pictured at left with his granddaughter Madison, is associate professor, department of hospitality management, Whitemore School of Business and Economics, University of New Hampshire.) I was not surprised when Regina told me that Joe's oncologist found the site helpful. Given the push toward patient-driven CME, I thought Joe's perspective would be inspiring for CME providers.

Q: How can doctors use the Web to support patients?

A: The oncologist and surgeon liked that the thrust of the site is not a personal story of trials and tribulations. While there are certainly personal references, the main thrust is to provide others with a look into the various tests and treatments that they will go through — before they have them. Every patient coming into Dana Farber Cancer Institute is given the URL of the Web site.

Web-enabled patient education can actually save time. Sure, there are the upfront costs associated with putting the information together. But once it's there, patients can be directed to it for the basic questions that have to be answered over and over again. Invest 10 hours this week and save 100 hours over the next year.

Q: What would you put on the agenda of an education program for cancer care professionals?

A: Truth will Overcome. The importance of being truthful even though it might be frightening.

Comrades in Cancer. The importance of putting together a support group for patients.

The Importance of Family and Friends. One doctor told me, “I want to get through to the family early on in the treatment. They're the ones who will make sure there's understanding — because you're overwhelmed.” I thought that was really, really good.

Q: Some physicians disparage training in patient-relationship skills, calling it soft and touchy-feely.

A: Communications skills are soft, and that's what they should be. I look forward to talking with my radiation doc because he is so warm and caring. He spends no more time than any other doctor, but you feel as though he has listened and addressed your concerns. Each session begins with a catch up on the family.

Q: Another hot issue in the CME world is education about complementary and alternative treatments.

A: First of all, doctors need to stay current on the fuzzy and clinical science covering all of the alternative treatments. And, they need to know if alternative treatments will have negative interactions with the treatments that they will be providing. They also have to show some respect for the alternative treatments chosen by a patient.

Q: What would you say to a group of oncologists?

A: I hope none of them ever has to sit hooked up to the bag, lying under the radiation machine. My radiation doctor actually had the mask made for himself and had himself clamped down to the radiation table so he could tell patients what it's like. He has the mask in his exam room. He'll put it on so you can see what it looks like. What a cool guy!

Q: What role can patients play in planning CME?

A: Nobody knows better than someone who has been there. The layout of the infusion rooms was great because we all sat there looking at each other. We got to feel each other's pain, to say I wish I was out of here as fast as her, or I'm glad I don't feel as bad as him. It was interesting — when I told the social worker and the psychologist how we felt, they didn't see the benefits. That's because they've never sat in the chair. In fact, Dana Farber Cancer Institute is always dinged by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals because patients don't have enough privacy in the infusion rooms. (Give me a chance to talk with those folks.)

P.S. Joe has completed treatments — chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery — and is well on the road to recovery.