Grateful to be Speaking Up for Better Care

Even on good days, Gloria Smith's voice is a hoarse, raspy whisper. On bad days, it can fail her altogether. But Smith keeps talking anyway. The 66-year-old Ohioan has a lot to say about her experiences with multiple doctors and uncoordinated care through four cancer diagnoses.

On August 10, the Ohio Campaign for Better Care and the National Campaign gave Gloria the platform to speak out during a roundtable discussion with Dr. Donald Berwick.

Smith has battled cancer on and off for more than half of her life. She has been diagnosed and treated for cancer four times by dozens of doctors. Between her illnesses, Smith worked for multiple employers and as a result, saw many doctors. She said, it "often felt like starting from scratch in getting [doctors] to understand my medical needs."

Smith's most recent cancer diagnosis illustrates the lack of communication among her doctors. In 2005, she had a constant sore throat and trouble swallowing. Smith was told there was a blockage in her throat, but did not receive a diagnosis despite multiple tests and her worsening condition. Smith was also given conflicting information by different doctors. One doctor said she may have a thyroid condition, but failed to provide follow-up care. She visited another doctor to have her thyroid tested again, but was told that she did not have a thyroid condition. After three years of visiting multiple doctors, Smith was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer and underwent surgery. Surgeons removed part of her vocal cords, a small part of her voice box, and told her that her voice would never be the same.

Smith says she feels she received wonderful care after her diagnosis, but she adds, "If medical professionals had listened to me and communicated with me more effectively when my symptoms first appeared, I might be in much better shape today."

Learn more about the national effort to improve care coordination from the Campaign for Better Care.

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