Strengthening the Doctor-Patient Relationship: An Interview With Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO

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Lidia Schapira, MD, FASCO

Earlier this summer, Lidia ­Schapira, MD, FASCO, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, was named Editor-in-Chief of Cancer.Net, ASCO’s patient information website. Prior to taking on this role, Dr. Schapira was a longtime member of the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, serving as Associate Editor of Psychosocial Oncology for more than a decade.

Throughout her career, Dr. Schapira has focused on improving communication between patients and doctors, pioneering workshops and developing educational programs to improve the communication skills of cancer clinicians both nationally and internationally. She has also collaborated with experts in neuroscience and psychology to find new ways to strengthen the therapeutic connection between patients and health-care providers.

We spoke with Dr. Schapira about her background and the role she sees Cancer.Net playing in the lives of people with cancer and family caregivers.


In your career, in what areas or issues have you chosen to focus your research?

I’m interested in the psychological processes that are set in motion in response to a serious illness and in understanding how people respond to these existential threats and turn them into challenges. I also focus on furthering compassionate connections between patients and cancer clinicians and on understanding the social determinants of health, which include education, socioeconomic status, and resources, as well as cultural and spiritual beliefs. Every single one of these issues never ceases to fascinate me and can be experienced in so many different ways—every encounter with a patient feels fresh and different.


How do you think your research background and clinical experience will help you in your role as Cancer.Net’s Editor-in-Chief?

I have always felt it is important to focus on both the patient’s and the physician’s experience. The whole picture can emerge only when we consider the humanity of each participant. As a result, I am constantly looking for new ways of enhancing compassion in clinical care through research and education. This has led me to participate in educational endeavors designed to improve communication skills of cancer clinicians and to work collaboratively with patient advocacy groups to identify better mechanisms for supporting patients throughout the illness experience. So working with Cancer.Net is a natural fit, as it is the best possible platform for the oncology community to provide expert guidance, as well as support and empowerment to patients.


How have you seen Cancer.Net change over the past 10+ years?

Oh boy—this is a remarkable story of success. Cancer.Net is a trusted source of information [for patients], largely due to the incredible and generous contribution of our expert editors and panelists. Over the past decade, we have expanded the content of the site to include not only rare cancers and novel therapies, but also palliative care, symptom management, communication, cost of care, and all aspects of coping. We have started translating important content into Spanish, and we are proud to have visitors from every continent (except Antarctica). We continue to embrace new ways of communicating with patients and family caregivers and have built a strong presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The number of people visiting the site is increasing at a very fast clip, and this is the best endorsement of our efforts.


What would you like to accomplish in your time as Editor-in-Chief?

I hope to bring some fresh ideas to Cancer.Net about themes that resonate with patients and family caregivers. Communication involves an active exchange of perspectives and information, and I think we can do even more to help people with cancer become more engaged in their care. This will lead to greater satisfaction and improvements in their quality of life. I also want to address the needs of family caregivers as much as possible, since they are essential partners in cancer care. ■

Selected portions reprinted from Cancer.Net. © American Society of Clinical Oncology. “Strengthening the Doctor-Patient Relationship: An Interview With Dr. Lidia Schapira” 11 June 2015. All rights reserved.