Quality doctor-patient communication results in better cancer care

New research from the American Cancer Society found cancer patients who reported experiencing better communication with a provider typically received more efficient care, fewer office visits and improved outcomes. 

“Our study suggests that when cancer care providers are more effective communicators, their patients are more likely to follow medical advice and medication protocols,” said lead author, Ashish Rai, PhD, with the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “Cancer survivors are distinct from many other patients, in terms of their provider communication-related needs and expectations…”

Rai and colleagues utilized data on 4,588 cancer survivors taken from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) from 2008 through 2014. Of the total cohort, 2,257 were between 18 to 64, with the remaining 2,331 were 65 and older.

Patients’ rated their communication satisfaction using the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) method on a four-point scale ranging from “never” to “always.” Answers were in response to whether providers listened carefully, were coherently explained the situation, showed respect for respondents communication and spent adequate time with the patient.

The outcomes measured included emergency department visits, office visits and healthcare spending.

Results showed better baseline health was associated with greater provider communication satisfaction in both elderly and non-elderly cancer survivors. More comorbidities lowered satisfaction rating, suggesting more attention is needed to coordinate care across providers, the authors wrote.

“Our results highlight the need for individualized communication strategies in cancer survivorship care,” wrote Rai and colleagues. “Notably, our results suggest that improving cancer survivors' satisfaction with provider communication would lead to better health outcomes in an efficient manner.”

This study comes on the heels of research released Aug. 13 that concluded conversations on the potential harms of lung cancer between doctors and patients to be “virtually nonexistent,” driving home the need for improved dialogue in cancer care.

Prior studies have equated greater service use to higher satisfaction ratings, but the results of this study suggest otherwise, according to Rai et al. They argue providers can help streamline care and ease anxiety through improved communication, especially in cancer patients who often must endure frequent office visits.

Research was published in JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.