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Patient-Centered Physics

In an age of increasingly complex equipment and sophisticated quality assurance programs, it’s imperative that clinical physicists never lose sight of patients’ wishes.

When Daniel C. Pavord, now chief medical physicist for Health Quest, was first starting out, one of the physicians he worked with called him into the exam room during a consultation with a patient who had metastatic bone disease. The patient’s condition was incurable and he knew that his life expectancy was measured in months, not years.

“When the physician asked the man what his goals for treatment were, he had a request: every spring he went on a fishing trip with his son and he wanted to go one last time,” Pavord recalls. “He wanted to feel well enough to go and not have his condition detract from the bonding experience of those mornings while wading into the stream with his son.”

This physician taught Pavord to look beyond the diagnosis to find out what is most important to patients. “After we left the exam room, the physician said: ‘We don’t treat pathology reports and CT scans, we treat people.’ And sometimes the most important thing you can do for a patient is to get them under treatment as quickly as possible to improve their quality of life for whatever time they have left.”

Casting

The patient returned for a follow-up visit in June and had indeed gone fishing and was grateful for the time spent with his son. “I’m sure that it made his death a few months later much easier for the entire family,” Pavord says. “As clinical professionals, it’s our job to not let technology distract us from doing what’s best for our patients. As technology continues to evolve and our role within the process changes, we must remain grounded in that reality.”