Communication breakdowns in cancer care are common and represent a failure in patient-centered care. While multiple studies have elicited patients’ perspectives on these breakdowns, little is known about cancer care providers’ attitudes regarding the causes and potential solutions.
To examine providers’ (1) perceptions of the nature and causes of communication breakdowns with patients in cancer care and (2) suggestions for managing and preventing breakdowns.
Qualitative study of nine focus groups held at three sites (Massachusetts, Georgia and Washington).
Fifty-nine providers: 33 % primary care physicians, 14 % oncologists, 36 % nurses, and 17 % nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and others.
Directed content analysis of focus group transcripts.
Providers’ perceptions of the causes of communication breakdowns fell into three categories: causes related to patients, providers, or healthcare systems. Providers perceived that patients sometimes struggle to understand cancer and health-related information, have unrealistic expectations, experience emotional and psychological distress that interferes with information exchange; and may be reticent to share their confusion or concerns. Providers described their own and colleagues’ contributions to these breakdowns as sharing inaccurate, conflicting, or uncoordinated information. Providers also described the difficulty in balancing hope with reality in discussions of prognosis. System issues named by providers included insufficient time with patients, payment systems, and changing protocols that inhibit communication and coordination of care. Potential solutions included greater patient engagement, team coordination, and systems that promote patient feedback.
Providers described multiple causes for communication breakdowns at the patient, provider, and system level. Multi-level interventions that coordinate care and encourage feedback may help to address or prevent communication breakdowns.