Communication styles in the cancer consultation: preferences for a patient-centred approach

Psychooncology. 2000 Mar-Apr;9(2):147-56. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1099-1611(200003/04)9:2<147::aid-pon443>;2-x.


Objective: Although doctor-patient communication has been the focus of numerous studies, there is a lack of empirical evidence on which to base a curriculum for teaching effective communication skills for use in an oncology setting. Research within the general practice area identifies patient-centred and doctor-centred behaviours as the most important dimensions of doctor-patient communication. This study examined patients and their relatives/friends' preferences for and satisfaction with patient-centred and doctor-centred consulting styles. It was argued that by determining patient preferences for consulting styles, specific recommendations for improving communication in the oncology setting could be formulated.

Participants and methods: One hundred and thirteen women who had been treated for breast cancer and 48 of their relatives or friends watched videotaped scenarios of an oncology consultation, using professional actors. Viewers were randomly allocated to either a good prognosis or poor prognosis video, in which the oncologist discussed the patient's diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. These segments were presented in both styles to allow viewers to directly compare and contrast the patient-centred and doctor-centred approach. Outcomes included style preference and satisfaction. Demographic details, information and involvement preferences, anxiety and depression levels were also obtained.

Results: Both patients and their relatives or friends significantly preferred a patient-centred consulting style across all aspects of the consultation (p<0.0001), except within the treatment segment of the good prognosis video where there was no significant difference. One third of the viewers preferred a doctor-centred style for the treatment and prognosis segments. Predictors of a patient-centred style preference in the treatment and prognosis segments included watching a poor prognosis video (OR=2.45, 95% CI 1.04-5.81, p=0.04; OR=3.22, 95% CI 1.22-8.50, p=0.02, respectively), and being employed in a professional occupation (OR=2.38, 95% CI 1.02-5.53, p=0.04 for the treatment segment only). Satisfaction ratings varied within and across videos.

Conclusion: Despite some methodological limitations, this study provides empirical data indicating that patients and their relatives or friends prefer a patient-centred approach to the consultation, particularly when the patient has a poor prognosis. The fact that a substantial minority of patients preferred a doctor-centred style emphasizes the need to enhance physicians' abilities to recognize different patient needs throughout the consultation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Prognosis
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Sick Role