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Cancer Nurs. 2003 Oct;26(5):337-45.

Communicating with families of patients in an acute hospital with advanced cancer: problems and strategies identified by nurses.

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Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, Perth, Western Australia.


After pain management, poor communication with health professionals creates the most distress for families of patients with cancer. Difficulties communicating with families also have been identified as potentially stressful for nurses. This is particularly the case for nurses working in acute care settings. However, little research has been undertaken to examine the specific problems and challenges confronting nurses who endeavor to communicate with families of patients with cancer in a hospital setting. The purpose of this study was to describe nurses' perceptions of communication issues, potential barriers, and strategies associated with nurse-family interactions in an acute cancer hospital setting. Focus groups were conducted with nurses from two cancer wards at an Australia hospital. Four distinct themes emerged. First, all nurses described communication difficulties they encountered when interacting with families. Second, team factors appeared to be a central determinant of the quality of nurse-family communication. Third, nurses described difficulties associated with the delivery of bad news and treatment plans that are not clearly defined for the patient. Finally, the effects of poor communication on nurses were notably and vividly described. In this report, recommendations for clinical practice and subsequent research are offered.

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