Oncologists' reactions to cancer patients' verbal cues

P N Butow, R F Brown, S Cogar, M H N Tattersall, S M Dunn
Psycho-oncology 2002, 11 (1): 47-58
The diagnosis and treatment of cancer cause considerable psychological distress and morbidity. Consequently, cancer patients have high needs for informational and emotional support and doctors vary in their ability to recognise and address these needs. This study investigated patients' attempts to gain informational and emotional support through the use of verbal cues. The sample consisted of 298 patients with heterogeneous cancers, seeing one of five medical and four radiation oncologists for the first time. Sociodemographic variables and patient anxiety and satisfaction ratings were obtained. Transcripts of the audiotaped consultations were analysed and question-asking, use of indirect cues, cue type (informational or emotional), content categories in which questions and cues occurred and doctor response (responded to or not responded to), were recorded. Patients asked a median of 11 questions and gave two cues per consultation, usually during treatment discussions. Patients gave, and doctors responded to, more informational than emotional cues. Patients gave significantly more informational cues during longer consultations. Younger and female patients gave more cues for emotional support and asked questions. No demographic variables were associated with the doctors' response to emotional and informational cues; however, consultations in which more informational cues were responded to were shorter, even when controlling for the number of cues given. Satisfaction with the consultation and patient anxiety were unaffected by doctors' responses to cues. Overall, results showed that doctors effectively identify and respond to the majority of informational cues; however, they are less observant of and able to address cues for emotional support. Cues can be addressed without lengthening the consultation or increasing patient anxiety.

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