Colleen Tenan on Respect and Mindfulness During Patient Treatment

By Irene Yeh 

December 7, 2023 | Clinical trials can lead to breakthroughs in research, but they can also be a viable and beneficial care option for patients. According to Colleen Purcell Tenan, M.D., medical director at Javara, clinical trials can offer resources that many patients do not have access to, such as medications not covered by insurance, counseling, and close medical follow-up. And with efficient systems, such as Javara’s integrated research organization (IRO) model, patients can be matched with clinical trials that are most suitable for their conditions through their primary care team. This makes the process much more convenient for patients, as well as reassures them that their medical professionals will be guiding them along the way. 

While clinical trials can be a great treatment option, Tenan warns that there are a few factors physicians and researchers need to keep in mind as they work with patients. Mainly, care providers should remember that patients need to be treated with respect and mindfulness. 

In the newest episode of The Scope of Things, host Deborah Borfitz speaks with Tenan about what physicians and researchers can do to create a safe and comfortable environment for patients, both in clinics and clinical trials. Specializing in obesity medicine and care, Tenan also discusses her experiences with unconscious bias, particularly directed toward obesity patients, and what can be done to ease the stigma. 

Respect and Mindfulness 

Providing patients with respect and being mindful of their conditions goes a long way in their treatment process. There are many small steps and methods that physicians and researchers can take when providing care for their patients. One of these includes language and word choice. Tenan stresses to not associate patients with adjectives such as “obese.” Instead, it would be more respectful to address them as “patients with obesity” because it highlights their disease that needs to be treated. 

“One of my passions is making sure that we're treating all patients with overweight and obesity with the sort of respect and sensitivity that they deserve,” says Tenan. “People who have overweight or obesity encounter unconscious bias and stigma in many areas of life, including the healthcare system. And what's even worse than that is that research has shown that this is linked to adverse health outcomes for this population.” 

Another good step is to ensure that the clinics and trial sites are equipped with the right tools, such as exam rooms outfitted with chairs, scales, tables, gowns, and blood pressure cuffs that can accommodate patients of various body mass indexes. Staff can also take extra precautions to keep patient information private, such as not announcing a patient’s weight aloud or around other people. 

“All of these might seem like minor changes, but we really feel strongly about doing everything we can to make our patients feel comfortable and respected in the clinical space,” says Tenan. “And given the prevalence of overweight and obesity in America, I think we shouldn’t be doing this just for our obesity trials. We should be doing this for all our trials because we should be aware of this unconscious bias that exists in the healthcare system and doing what we can to address it.” 

Preparing the Patient Journey  

When considering clinical trials as treatment options, physicians can take a few steps to identify the studies in their patients’ best interest, says Tenan. A good starting point would be to map out the patient journey for specific indications and look for trials with an acceptable risk-benefit profile for these different populations. She also suggests gathering feedback from potential sites to gain local insights that can help physicians choose the right trials, thereby setting them up for success. This can help narrow down the list of patients that they can match to a trial most appropriate to their conditions. 

Respect and mindfulness can help patients feel like they are being understood and treated seriously, Tenan says. By building trust and being courteous, patients will feel more comfortable with and confident in their healthcare providers and researchers, as well as more open-minded about clinical trials as a treatment option. As a result, patients receive the treatment they need, and researchers can make progress in their discoveries. 

To hear Tenan talk more about Javara’s IRO model and its process, the benefits of offering clinical trials as a treatment option for patients, and the convenience of remote technologies in a post-pandemic world, be sure to listen to the latest episode of The Scope of Things.

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