The duality of option-listing in cancer care

Patient Educ Couns. 2020 Jan;103(1):71-76. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2019.07.025. Epub 2019 Jul 24.


Objective: Listing more than one option for treatment, termed "option-listing" (OL) is one way to facilitate shared decision-making. We seek to evaluate how oncologists do option-listing in clinical encounters across disease contexts.

Method: We coded and transcribed 90 video-recorded interactions between 5 oncologist participants and a convenience sample of 82 patients at 2 large clinics in the western U.S. We used conversation analytic (CA) methods to examine patterns of behavior when oncologists provided more than one treatment option to patients.

Results: In early-stage disease, OL provides patients with options while at the same time constraining those options through expression of physician bias. This effect disappears when cancer is at an advanced stage. In this context, OL is presented without physician preference and demonstrates recission of medical authority.

Conclusion: In early-stage contexts, OL functions as a way for physicians to array available options to patients while also communicating their expertise. In advanced-stage contexts, OL functions as a way to minimize treatment options and highlight dwindling possibilities.

Practice implications: OL is one way to implement shared decision-making, but it can also be used to facilitate a realization that treatment choices are diminishing and disease is progressing beyond a cure.

Keywords: Conversation analysis; Decision-making; Doctor-patient communication; Oncology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Oncologists*
  • Patient Participation
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians*