Effective communication in palliative care from the perspectives of patients and relatives: A systematic review

Palliat Support Care. 2023 Oct;21(5):890-913. doi: 10.1017/S1478951523001165.


Objectives: In palliative care, effective communication is essential to adequately meet the needs and preferences of patients and their relatives. Effective communication includes exchanging information, facilitates shared decision-making, and promotes an empathic care relationship. We explored the perspectives of patients with an advanced illness and their relatives on effective communication with health-care professionals.

Methods: A systematic review was conducted. We searched Embase, Medline, Web of Science, CINAHL, and Cochrane for original empirical studies published between January 1, 2015 and March 4, 2021.

Results: In total, 56 articles on 53 unique studies were included. We found 7 themes that from the perspectives of patients and relatives contribute to effective communication: (1) open and honest information. However, this open and honest communication can also trigger anxiety, stress, and existential disruption. Patients and relatives also indicated that they preferred (2) health-care professionals aligning to the patient's and relative's process of uptake and coping with information; (3) empathy; (4) clear and understandable language; (5) leaving room for positive coping strategies, (6) committed health-care professionals taking responsibility; and (7) recognition of relatives in their role as caregiver. Most studies in this review concerned communication with physicians in a hospital setting.

Significance of results: Most patients and relatives appreciate health-care professionals to not only pay attention to strictly medical issues but also to who they are as a person and the process they are going through. More research is needed on effective communication by nurses, in nonhospital settings and on communication by health-care professionals specialized in palliative care.

Keywords: Communication; Palliative care; Patients; Relatives; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Communication
  • Hospice and Palliative Care Nursing*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Patients