Companion participation in cancer consultations

Richard L Street, Howard S Gordon
Psycho-oncology 2008, 17 (3): 244-51

OBJECTIVE: Companions play an important role in cancer care. This investigation compared the communication of unaccompanied patients, accompanied patients, and companions during lung cancer consultations. Factors affecting the active participation of companions were analyzed.

METHODS: Participants included unaccompanied patients (N=48), accompanied patients (N=84), and companions (N=84) of newly diagnosed lung cancer patients seen at a large southern VA medical center. The consultations were audiotaped, then transcribed. Coded utterances included patients' and companions' active participation (asking questions, expressing concerns, and making assertions) and physicians' use of facilitative communication. Mixed linear regression was used for comparisons of accompanied patients' participation to that of their companions and to determine the independent predictors of companion participation and patient satisfaction.

RESULTS: The combined companion plus patient participation did not differ from the participation of unaccompanied patients. Patterns of companion participation varied greatly as almost half the interactions had a relatively passive companion (contributed to less than 40% of the patient plus companion active participation) but 33% of the consultations had an active companion and passive patient. Companions with less active participation accompanied black patients and received proportionally less facilitative communication from physicians. Patient satisfaction was lower when companion and patient had similar levels of participation.

CONCLUSION: Companions vary greatly in their participation in lung cancer visits. Physicians facilitate companion participation through the use of partnership-building and supportive communication. The companions of black patients were less active than their white counterparts which parallels other research indicating that black patients are often less active than white patients. Such communicative discrepancies could contribute to racial disparities in cancer care.

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