Physician-patient communication among Southern European cancer physicians: the influence of psychosocial orientation and burnout

Psychooncology. 2005 Aug;14(8):661-70. doi: 10.1002/pon.890.


Physician-patient communication is a critical factor for comprehensive care in oncology. Although a number of studies have been carried out in Northern Europe and the US on this subject, no data are available in Southern European countries. As a part of a multicenter Southern European Psycho-Oncology study (SEPOS), the present investigation was conducted to examine communication skills and related variables (i.e. psychosocial orientation, and burnout) among 125 physicians from Italy, Portugal, and Spain. The Self-Confidence in Communication Skills (SCCS) scale was given to assess physicians' perception of their communication skills and the Expected Outcome of Communication (EOC) scale was administered to examine the physicians' expectations about the effects of communicating with their patients. Doctors' psychosocial orientation was measured by using the Physician Belief Scale (PBS) and burnout was measured by using the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). Although the physicians reported receiving minimal training in communication during their education, they tended to perceive themselves as skilled in patient communication, apart from some areas (e.g. dealing with denial, managing uncertainty, assessing anxiety and depression, and promoting patient-family openness). Low psychosocial orientation and burnout symptoms (i.e. emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and poor personal accomplishment in their job) were associated with lower confidence in communication skills and higher expectations of a negative outcome, following physician-patient communication. The results suggest that there is a need for training cancer physicians in communication and for increasing a more definite psychosocially oriented approach in cancer care in Mediterranean countries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Burnout, Professional*
  • Communication*
  • Culture
  • Disclosure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Portugal
  • Psychology
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Spain
  • Surveys and Questionnaires