Half-Day Workshop Can Improve Cancer Team’s Communication Skills

Oncology NEWS International Vol 8 No 12, Volume 8, Issue 12

CLEVELAND-Communication between patients and a medical team can be improved with a single, brief workshop, according to a study conducted by the Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, University of Toronto.

CLEVELAND—Communication between patients and a medical team can be improved with a single, brief workshop, according to a study conducted by the Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, University of Toronto.

A head-and-neck cancer team consisting of oncologists, nurses, radiation therapists, and dietitians participated in the study. Patient satisfaction improved after team members attended the workshop, and the team’s use of a wide variety of communication strategies also increased.

Joy Doswell, an education consultant for Toronto-Sunnybrook, presented the study at the 33rd annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Education. The research was conducted by hematologist Peeter A. Poldre, MD, EdD, director of professional education at Toronto-Sunnybrook, and was funded in part by the Bayer Institute for Health Care Communication.

22 Communication Strategies

Twenty-two communication strategies were taught in the 4½-hour workshop, which consisted of a short lecture, exercises, and practice sessions. Some of the techniques are relatively obvious. For instance, physicians and their colleagues were encouraged to meet their patients while the patients are still clothed, to introduce themselves and clearly explain their role on the medical team, and to focus on the patient rather than the chart.

Other strategies taught at the workshop are more nuanced. For example, good communicators give confirmation that they are attentive to the feelings of the patient. This can be done through empathetic statements such as: “That must be difficult.”

Open-Ended Questions

The attendees were also given tips to help them better educate their patients. One way to ensure that patients comprehend the health information provided to them is by asking open-ended questions (“So, what will you do?”) rather than questions that can be answered with a nod (“Do you understand?”).

To measure the effectiveness of the workshop, two groups of patients newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer were recruited. The first group, consisting of 41 patients, underwent treatment at the cancer center before the head and neck site team attended the communications workshop. The second group, consisting of 52 patients, began treatment at the cancer center after the team had attended the workshop.

The pre-workshop group included 31 women and 11 men, with a mean age of 64 years. The post-workshop group consisted of 36 women and 15 men, with a mean age of 67 years.

A research assistant interviewed each patient with a set of questions regarding the team’s performance, the patient’s feelings, and the patient’s overall satisfaction. The pre-workshop group was enrolled in the study up to 8 months before the workshop. The post-workshop group was recruited into the study during the 10 months after the workshop.

Study Results

The team’s use of 14 of the 22 strategies increased after the workshop. Use of two of the strategies increasing by 30% or more. These two were the team’s abilities to focus on the patient rather than the chart and to ensure that patients understood the information provided. Four of the strategies increased by more than 10%; eight increased by 5% to 10%; and eight stayed stable. Overall patient satisfaction, already very high, increased.

The researchers noted that the role of good communication in the doctor/patient relationship has been well researched but that few studies have evaluated the impact of communication skills when a patient’s care is being managed by a medical team.