Variation in question asking during cancer clinical interactions: a potential source of disparities in access to information

Patient Educ Couns. 2011 Jan;82(1):63-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2010.04.008. Epub 2010 Apr 28.


Objective: to investigate whether patient demographic characteristics and patients' companions influence variation in patient question asking during cancer clinical interactions, thus representing a potential disparity in access to information.

Methods: data included 109 oncologist-patient-companion interactions video recorded at a comprehensive cancer center. Interactions were observed and analyzed using the Karmanos Information Seeking Analysis System (K-ISAS).

Results: significant relationships were found between patient race/ethnicity and question asking. Black patients asked fewer questions and a smaller proportion of direct questions (relative to the total frequency of questions) than White patients. Black patients were also less likely to have companions present during the interaction, which resulted in fewer questions asked on Black patients' behalf.

Conclusion: differences in question asking by Black and White patients suggest that Black patients may receive less information from their oncologists than White patients. PRACTICE/RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS: patients should be encouraged to ask more questions and more direct questions and to bring a companion to the interaction to assist them in gaining information from their physician. Future research is needed to investigate ways to eliminate this potential source of disparities in access to information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Access to Information*
  • Adult
  • African Americans / psychology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology
  • Family
  • Female
  • Friends
  • Healthcare Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Patient Participation*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult