Talking about treatment benefits, harms, and what matters to patients in radiation oncology: an observational study

BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2019 Apr 11;19(1):84. doi: 10.1186/s12911-019-0800-5.


Background: Shared decision making is associated with improved patient outcomes in radiation oncology. Our study aimed to capture how shared decision-making practices-namely, communicating potential harms and benefits and discussing what matters to patients-occur in usual care.

Methods: We invited a convenience sample of clinicians and patients in a radiation oncology clinic to participate in a mixed methods study. Prior to consultations, clinicians and patients completed self-administered questionnaires. We audio-recorded consultations and conducted qualitative content analysis. Patients completed a questionnaire immediately post-consultation about their recall and perceptions.

Results: 11 radiation oncologists, 4 residents, 14 nurses, and 40 patients (55% men; mean age 64, standard deviation or SD 9) participated. Patients had a variety of cancers; 30% had been referred for palliative radiotherapy. During consultations (mean length 45 min, SD 16), clinicians presented a median of 8 potential harms (interquartile range 6-11), using quantitative estimates 17% of the time. Patients recalled significantly fewer harms (median recall 2, interquartile range 0-3, t(38) = 9.3, p < .001). Better recall was associated with discussing potential harms with a nurse after seeing the physician (odds ratio 7.5, 95% confidence interval 1.3-67.0, p = .04.) Clinicians initiated 63% of discussions of harms and benefits while patients and families initiated 69% of discussions about values and preferences (Chi-squared(1) = 37.8, p < .001). 56% of patients reported their clinician asked what mattered to them.

Conclusions: Radiation oncology clinics may wish to use interprofessional care and initiate more discussions about what matters to patients to heed Jain's (2014) reminder that, "a patient isn't a disease with a body attached but a life into which a disease has intruded."

Keywords: Patient-clinician communication; Risk communication; Shared decision making; Values clarification.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Decision Making, Shared
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Radiation Oncology*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Research Design
  • Surveys and Questionnaires