Objective: To explore oncologists' perspectives on the process of cancer patient follow up and to identify what oncologists need from family physicians during the remission stage of cancer disease.
Design: Qualitative study with in-depth interviews.
Setting: Regional cancer centre serving a catchment area of 1.4 million people.
Participants: A purposive sample of 10 oncologists. One was unable to participate because of sabbatical leave. The nine who participated represented both radiation and medical oncology. Oncologists who had practised at the cancer centre for less than 2 years were excluded from the study.
Main outcome measures: Existing barriers to communication and collaboration between oncologists and family physicians in cancer patient follow up.
Results: Oncologists described roles for themselves in reassuring patients, detecting recurrence, monitoring toxicity of treatment, and gathering data for clinical trials. Collaboration with family physicians in the remission phase was identified as desirable but inhibited by variable and unpredictable interest, poor communication with family physicians, and patients' own preferences for follow up. Oncologists perceived the cancer system structure as a "black box" within which multidisciplinary teams worked well but seldom included family physicians. Oncologists expressed a need to see healthy patients and to have more understanding and support from family physicians, preferably through sharing follow-up care. Developing dialogue and a more collaborative approach were suggested.
Conclusions: Family physicians should maintain a role in remission follow-up. However, a more collaborative approach with oncologists is warranted. Communication barriers, patient preferences, and misperceptions between groups must be addressed before roles are redefined.