How can communication by oncologists enhance patients' trust? An experimental study

Ann Oncol. 2014 Apr;25(4):896-901. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mdu027. Epub 2014 Mar 10.


Background: Cancer patients need to trust their oncologist to embark in the process of oncologic treatment. Yet, it is unclear how oncologist communication contributes to such trust. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of three elements of oncologists' communication on cancer patients' trust: conferring competence, honesty, and caring.

Methods: Eight videotaped consultations, 'vignettes', were created, reflecting an encounter between an oncologist and a patient with colorectal cancer. All vignettes were identical, except for small variations in the oncologist's verbal communication. Cancer patients (n = 345) were randomly assigned to viewing two vignettes, asked to identify with the patient and afterwards to rate their trust in the observed oncologist. The effects of competence, honesty, and caring on trust were established with multilevel analysis.

Results: Oncologist's enhanced expression of competence (β = 0.17, 95% CI 0.08, 0.27; P < 0.001), honesty (β = 0.30, 95% CI 0.20, 0.40; P < 0.001), as well as caring (β = 0.36, 95% CI 0.26, 0.46; P < 0.001) resulted in significantly increased trust. Communication of honesty and caring also increased patients' expectation of operation success and reported willingness to recommend the oncologist.

Conclusion(s): As hypothesized, oncologists can influence their patients' trust by enhanced conveyance of their level of competence, honesty, and caring. Caring behavior has the strongest impact on trust. These findings can be translated directly into daily clinical practice as well as in communication skills training.

Keywords: communication; physician–patient relations; trust; videotaped consultations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Trust / psychology*
  • Videotape Recording