Health care for cancer patients is primarily shaped by health care professionals. This raises the question to what extent health care professionals are aware of patients' preferences, needs and values.
The aim of this study was to explore to what extent there is concordance between patients' preferences in cancer care and patients' preferences as estimated by health care professionals. We also examined whether there were gender differences between health care professionals with regard to the degree in which they can estimate patients' preferences correctly.
To obtain unbiased insight into the specific preferences of cancer patients, we developed the 'Cancer patients' health care preferences' questionnaire'. With this questionnaire we assessed a large sample of cancer patients (n = 386). Next, we asked health care professionals (medical oncologists, nurses and policymakers, n = 60) to fill out this questionnaire and to indicate preferences they thought cancer patients would have. Mean scores between groups were compared using Mann-Whitney tests. Effect sizes (ESs) were calculated for statistically significant differences.
We found significant differences (ESs 0.31 to 0.90) between patients and professionals for eight out of twenty-one scales and two out of eight single items. Patients valued care aspects related to expertise and attitude of health care providers and accessibility of services as more important than the professionals thought they would do. Health care professionals overestimated the value that patients set on particularly organisational and environmental aspects.
We found significant gender-related differences between the professionals (ESs 0.69 to 1.39 ) for eight out of twenty-one scales and two out of eight single items. When there were significant differences between male and female healthcare professionals in their estimation of patients health care preferences, female health care professionals invariably had higher scores. Generally, female health care professionals did not estimate patients' preferences and needs better than their male colleagues.
Health care professionals are reasonably well able to make a correct estimation of patients preferences, but they should be aware of their own bias and use additional resources to gain a better understanding of patients' specific preferences for each patient is different and ultimately the care needs and preferences will also be unique to the person.