Navigating the waters of medical treatment can be not only confusing, but also potentially deadly. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, one in seven Medicare patients in hospitals experiences a medical error. Almost half of the errors were preventable. It is estimated that 440,000 people die each year after suffering a medical error in the hospital, making this the third leading cause of death just behind heart disease and cancer. My personal experience is that the rate of mistakes is much larger than that reported and that its primary cause is not a lack of skills amongst most medical professionals but instead a coordination system that prioritizes billing and legal protections for the medical provider over a comprehensive and timely communication system that crosses multiple medical disciplines and hospital staffing shifts.

For cancer patients, it is vital to be vigilant about all aspects of care. For many, this means engaging a “patient champion,” to serve as an advocate.  In most cases, that will be the spouse or family member of the patient, but if there is a family friend who has the desire, management skills and most importantly fortitude, consider engaging them in the process.

For the past twenty plus years, I have been the “champion” for my wife, Anita. During this time, I have learned many lessons, and have been able to intervene in many situations that were potentially life threatening.

It is my intention to share with LRG members and the wider GIST community important strategies I and others have learned to help prolong the life of my loved one, in order to help others to do the same. We will publish a series of articles and hold webcasts in the future dealing with topics relevant to becoming a “patient champion.”

Two valuable tips I will share today as a preview: Keep fastidious records and develop a team of medical professionals and an agreed upon system to encourage treatment collaboration.

Lauren Funk, Physician’s Assistant at New York Presbyterian, is one of the treatment professionals who became a valuable part of my wife, Anita’s team of “champions.”

I look forward to hearing about your strategies that can be shared in future articles- with the goal of extending survival for GIST and all cancer patients.