General practitioners' communication on complementary and integrative medicine for cancer patients: Findings from an analysis of consultations with standardised patients

Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2022 Nov;31(6):e13651. doi: 10.1111/ecc.13651. Epub 2022 Jul 17.


Objective: Our aim was to explore whether general practitioners (GPs) communicate with cancer patients on complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) in a patient-centred and case-specific manner.

Methods: We designed two cases of standardised breast cancer patients and allocated 29 GPs to hold a consultation either with Case 1 or Case 2. Case 1 presented with fears of possible physical side effects of hormone treatment. Case 2 feared a loss in social functioning because of nausea and emesis as possible side effects of chemotherapy. Consultations were audiotaped and analysed using the Roter Interaction Analysis System (RIAS). We analysed whether recommended CIM treatments and GPs' focus on psychosocial or medical and therapy-related content differed according to whether they were counselling Case 1 or Case 2.

Results: In consultations with Case 1, GPs rather focused on medical and therapy-related content and most often recommended mistletoe, diets and sports. In contrast, GPs focused on psychosocial content and they most often recommended methods of self-care when counselling Case 2.

Conclusion: The GPs in our sample reacted case-specifically to the patients' interest in CIM. Such responsive and patient-centred communication is a valuable resource but is often time-consuming. Adequate training and reimbursement should therefore be considered for GPs.

Keywords: cancer; complementary medicine; counselling; general practitioners; integrative medicine; patient-centred care.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • General Practitioners* / psychology
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine*
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Referral and Consultation