Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Medical notes 
Background Briefings 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
Thursday, 23 December, 1999, 07:58 GMT
Bad communication hurts cancer patients

Consultation Good communication with patients is vital

Doctors who fail to communicate effectively with cancer patients are damaging the physical and emotional well-being of both patients and themselves, according to research.

A survey by the Cancer Research Campaign found widespread flaws in the way doctors talk to cancer patients about their diagnosis and treatment.

When speaking to patients, doctors held back information which they thought would cause distress.

But the report shows that this lack of openness fuels patients' anxiety about the seriousness of their disease.

The current system in our hospitals is clearly failing the majority of cancer patients
Professor Gordon McVie, director general, Cancer Research Campaign
Poor communication is also having a negative effect on doctors and nurses.

The researchers found that inadequate training in communication and management skills is a major factor contributing to their stress and lack of job satisfaction.

The studyıs co-author, Professor Lesley Fallowfield from the CRC's Psychosocial Oncology Group said: "Communication is an important but neglected factor that influences the quality of cancer care.

"This paper shows that doctors need not only good communication skills, but also a personal awareness of the barriers to effective communication.  

"Clearly, some of our doctors are not adequately equipped to speak to patients about what are often highly sensitive and emotional matters."

The environment in which doctors talk to cancer patients was cited as another major problem.

Interruptions by people entering the room and the telephone ringing during consultations were common.

Doctors fail to quiz patients

Professor Gordon McVie Professor Gordon McVie says cancer patients are being failed
The paper also revealed that doctors are failing to find out how much cancer patients know about their disease and expectations of treatment before consultations.

As a consequence, doctors are rarely fully understood by patients.

Hospital patients only manage to remember just over 50% of the information they receive from doctors about their diagnosis and treatment.

But this figure drops to only 25% in cancer patients, as information of a distressing nature raises patients' anxiety levels and reduces their ability to remember detail.

Professor Gordon McVie, CRC director general, said: "The current system in our hospitals is clearly failing the majority of cancer patients.  

"Doctors and nurses usually spend more time talking to patients than they spend on any single medical procedure.  But few receive adequate communication training, often to the detriment of patients.

"This paper underlines the urgent need to introduce a system which ensures all our cancer specialists get an adequate level of training in this area, otherwise our patients will continue to lose out."

The CRC is sponsoring an ongoing programme aimed at teaching communication skills to senior oncologists.

Early indications show that the programme improves self-rated skills, increases the confidence of senior oncologists in key problem areas and improves their attitudes and willingness to teach communication skills to junior staff
Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

See also:
09 Nov 99 |  Health
UK cancer care 'fails patients'
05 Feb 99 |  Health
Best cancer treatment 'a human right'
28 Sep 99 |  Health
Mothers unhappy with GP attitude
09 Dec 99 |  Health
Computers speak for intensive care patients

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Links to other Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories