A study in media management for prostate cancer support group leaders


There has been a prostate cancer furore in Las Vegas, where a locally respected urologist has had his medical license suspended after being accused of re-using single-use needle guides in the conduct of prostate biopsies (see this article from the Las Vegas Review-Journal).

The furore landed squarely in the lap of the local support group leader when the local media asked to attend a support group meeting to talk to patients, get some background, and take photos. They also wanted his personal opinions on the doctor and the developments.

Wisely, the local support group leader took the high road:

  • He allowed the media to come briefly to the support group meeting in order to be able to take photos and understand what happened at such meetings. However, …
  • He made it very clear that support group members could not be asked and should not answer personal questions at the support group meeting because of confidentiality and HIPAA concerns.
  • He also made it very clear to the support group members that if they wished, as individuals, to talk to the media, that was their right, but it could not be done within the hospital where the support group meets (again because of HIPAA concerns)
  • Finally, in giving a number of interviews to the media himself, as the representative of the support group, he made it very clear that
    • While the doctor in question had been accused of a serious wrongdoing, he had not been convicted of such actions as yet.
    • The doctor in question had been held in high regard by many of his patients, who were now very disturbed by this turn of events.
    • The support group would be working with the physician’s patients to help them take steps to ensure that they had no adverse effects from inappropriate use of the single-use needle guides.
    • The support group was extremely concerned by what had happened and would also be taking steps to ensure that they had a full understanding of the situation and how to help affected patients move forward.

It would not be unreasonable to become very angry in such a situation, but it is the responsibility of a good advocate, under such circumstances, to try to see all points of view and act accordingly within the law, putting one’s personal feeling about the situation to one side.

The situation in Las Vegas was made much worse by the fact that, just last year, another physician was convicted of re-using syringes in management of hundreds of patients, and as many as 100 of those patients are now thought to have contracted hepatitis as a consequence.

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