Published on January 15, 2019

radiation guideIllustrated Discussion Guide Eases Patient Fears During Radiation Therapy

For newly diagnosed cancer patients, fears about cancer treatment can be just as intense as fears about the cancer itself.

Take radiation therapy, for example. Patients often worry: Will treatment hurt? Will there be uncomfortable side effects? Will they be “radioactive” after treatment and pose a safety risk to loved ones?

Daniel Golden, M.D., a radiation oncologist at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital, is hoping to ease these fears and educate his patients in a straightforward approach using an illustrated discussion guide. The double-sided, 11-by-17-inch guide is chock full of valuable information for patients about to undergo radiation therapy.  

“Oftentimes doctors and nurses put together pamphlets of information they think patients need to know, but for some patients it might be written at a level that’s difficult for them to understand – or it might not contain the information patients really want to know,” said Golden.

That’s why Dr. Golden, an expert in the use of radiation therapy, decided to explore the possibility of a graphical narrative with simple pictures and words to educate his radiation therapy patients.

To bring his vision to life, he reached out to Tomoko Ichikawa, clinical professor at Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design in Chicago. Dr. Golden and Ichikawa received a grant from the University of Chicago Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence to fund the project.

Dr. Golden had a few requirements for the discussion guide; it needed to be concise so it could be printed economically. He also wanted the guide to be brand-neutral so other healthcare facilities could access the discussion guide online and print it for distribution to their patients receiving radiation treatment.

The student design team first reviewed existing radiation therapy patient education materials to familiarize themselves with radiation therapy. Next they visited Dr. Golden in New Lenox at the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross, where they immersed themselves in the patient experience – from entering the clinic to actually laying on the treatment tables used for radiation therapy. They also interviewed patients, caregivers, doctors, nurses, radiation therapists and social workers to absorb all angles of the radiation therapy patient experience.

After hundreds of hours of collaboration, the result is a beautifully designed discussion guide featuring a patient named “Jane.” The guide takes Jane through every step of her care – from the moment she walks into the radiation clinic for her initial consultation, through treatment and finally, leaving the clinic with after-care instructions. The guide also includes handy sections for tracking the number of treatments completed and a list of important phone numbers.    

Reactions from patients about the illustrated guide have been overwhelmingly positive. Not only is it easy to understand, it goes a long way in alleviating patient anxieties about receiving radiation treatment.

“This patient education tool has really transformed the way I communicate with my patients,” Dr. Golden said. “It’s affirming to see a patient carrying the guide with them after their initial consultation and refer to it when asking questions about their care. We are in the process of translating the guide into Spanish and other languages to further expand its reach. I envision it changing the standard of how patients are counseled about radiation treatment.”

Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care. These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.