Acceptability of a Serious Illness Conversation Guide to Black Americans: Results from a focus group and oncology pilot study

Palliat Support Care. 2023 Oct;21(5):788-797. doi: 10.1017/S1478951522001298.


Objectives: Serious illness conversations (SICs) can improve the experience and well-being of patients with advanced cancer. A structured Serious Illness Conversation Guide (SICG) has been shown to improve oncology patient outcomes but was developed and tested in a predominantly White population. To help address disparities in advanced cancer care, we aimed to assess the acceptability of the SICG among African Americans with advanced cancer and their clinicians.

Methods: A two-phase study conducted in Charleston, SC, included focus groups to gather perspectives on the SICG in Black Americans and a single-arm pilot study of a revised SICG with surveys and qualitative exit interviews to evaluate patient and clinician perspectives. We used descriptive analysis of survey results and thematic analysis of qualitative data.

Results: Community-based and patient focus group participants (N = 20) reported that a simulated conversation using an adapted SICG built connection, promoted control, and fostered consideration of religious faith and family. Black patients with advanced cancer (N = 23) reported that SICG-guided conversations were acceptable, helpful, and promoted conversations with loved ones. Oncologists found conversations feasible to implement and skill-building, and also identified opportunities for training and implementation that could support meeting the needs of their patients with low health literacy. An adapted SICG includes language to assess the strength and affirm the clinician-patient relationship.

Significance of results: An adapted structured communication tool to facilitate SIC, the SICG, appears acceptable to Black Americans with advanced cancer and seems feasible for use by oncology clinicians working with this population. Further testing in other marginalized populations may address disparities in advanced cancer care.

Keywords: Advance care planning; African Americans; Cancer; Communication; Patient-centered care; Qualitative research.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American*
  • Communication
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / complications
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Pilot Projects