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J Cancer Educ. 2014 Dec;29(4):753-61. doi: 10.1007/s13187-014-0651-9.

Communication about symptoms and quality of life issues in patients with cancer: provider perceptions.

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  • 1Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, 450 Brookline Ave, Boston, MA, 02115, USA,


This study used qualitative data collection and analysis methods to describe provider perceptions of addressing patient-initiated communication about common or sensitive symptom and quality of life issues (SQIs) in oncology. Eligible participants were health care providers who had participated in a larger trial testing a patient-centered technology to assess cancer SQIs and support self-care. Audio-recorded vignettes were simulated based on recorded clinic visits from the larger trial and presented during semi-structured cognitive interviews with each participant. Transcripts of the interviews were content analyzed. Twelve providers participated. Participants' responses included four themes: the institutional and clinical context, the complexity of addressing SQIs, strategies used to understand SQIs, and creating a plan to address SQIs. Participants felt that approaching SQIs inside and outside of the clinic required ongoing communication within a multidisciplinary team both to gather information and manage the SQI. Forming a relationship with the patient was one strategy to facilitate assessing SQIs. Most participants expressed a need for guidance about effective SQI communication. Providers perceived approaching SQIs as a routine part of interdisciplinary clinical care. The specific symptom and the complexity of its management influenced the process of assessing and managing SQIs. Findings have implications for institutional processes, training, evaluation, and program development.

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