Clinician-patient communication: a systematic review

Support Care Cancer. 2009 Jun;17(6):627-44. doi: 10.1007/s00520-009-0601-y. Epub 2009 Mar 4.


Goal of work: The goal of this work was to identify methods of clinician-patient cancer-related communication that may impact patient outcomes associated with distress at critical points in the course of cancer care.

Materials and methods: A systematic review of practice guidelines, systematic reviews, or randomized trials on this topic was conducted. Guidelines for quality was evaluated using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation Instrument, and the contributive value for recommendations was assessed. Systematic reviews and randomized trials were also evaluated for methodological rigor.

Results: Four existing guidelines, eight systematic reviews and nine randomized trials were identified. Two of the guidelines were of high quality, and all systematic reviews reported clear search criteria and support for their conclusions; the randomized trials were of modest or low quality. For all situations and disease stages, guidelines consistently identified open, honest, and timely communication as important; specifically, there was evidence for a reduction in anxiety when discussions of life expectancy and prognosis were included in consultations. Techniques to increase patient participation in decision-making were associated with greater satisfaction but did not necessarily decrease distress. Few studies took cultural and religious diversity into account.

Conclusions: There is little definitive evidence supporting the superiority of one specific method for communicating information compared to another. Evidence regarding the benefit of decision aids or other strategies to facilitate better communication is inconsistent. Since patients vary in their communication preferences and desire for active participation in decision making, there is a need to individualize communication style.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Patient Participation / psychology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome