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Better Doctor/Patient Communication Means Better Outcomes in Cancer Care, According to a Report in JNCCN

Study from the American Cancer Society found patients who were more satisfied with the communication they received, had better health results at lower costs

FORT WASHINGTON, PA [August 14, 2018] — A new study from the American Cancer Society has found cancer patients who reported greater satisfaction in the way their provider communicated with them, wound up receiving more efficient care with fewer office visits and better health outcomes. The findings were published in the latest issue of JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

JNCCN August Cover
Ashish Rai, PhD, Surveillance and Health Services Research, American Cancer Society

Ashish Rai, PhD,            Surveillance & Health Services Research, American Cancer Society

“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, Surveillance and Health Services Research, American Cancer Society. “Cancer survivors are distinct from many other patients, in terms of their provider communication-related needs and expectations. They are more likely to be older and have additional health concerns. Being diagnosed with cancer and hearing complex information about treatment, costs, and prognosis can cause anxiety. On top of that, there is the fear of possible recurrence. All these factors and more can make cancer survivors particularly sensitive in their perception of good care or communication.”

The researchers used data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) from 2008 through 2014, to track outcomes for 4,588 cancer survivors; 2,257 were between 18-64 (median age 54), the other 2,331 were 65 and older (median age 75). Communication satisfaction was measured by the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS), in conjunction with the MEPS data. Patients used a four-point scale ranging from “never” to “always” to track whether their providers (1) listened carefully, (2) explained things in a way that was easy to understand, (3) showed respect for what the respondent had to say, and (4) spent enough time with the respondent. A global zero-to-ten satisfaction rating scale was also factored into a composite score, and tracked across 12 months. The researchers then measured outcomes based on the number of emergency department visits, office visits, and total healthcare spending (including medication and out-of-pocket costs).

In both age groups, patients with better baseline health reported higher satisfaction levels, suggesting that more complex circumstances negatively impacted patients’ perception of their communication. The more comorbidities a patient had, the lower their satisfaction rating, highlighting the importance of coordinating care across a team of providers.

“The results of this study present an interesting challenge: those survivors most in need of good communication about complex medical issues may not be receiving the information they seek in a manner that they find helpful. That in turn results in higher health care utilization and expenditure,” commented Crystal Denlinger, MD, FACP, Chief, GI Medical Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Chair of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) Panel on Survivorship. “This could be due to many factors, including time constraints, competing priorities, and increasingly complex cancer therapies. This study highlights the need for additional research into how to tailor the health care experience both during and after cancer treatment, in order to communicate more effectively.”

“Communication needs vary from patient to patient,” said Dr. Rai. “While time constraints do pose a challenge, the amount of time spent is only one of the attributes of effective communication. By tailoring their communication strategy to a patient’s specific needs, providers may be able to communicate more effectively in the same amount of time.”

Dr. Rai also pointed out the importance of delegating both clinical and communication duties to colleagues as needed. As another time-saving measure, the study also cites earlier research demonstrating better outcomes for patients who had the option of communicating with their provider electronically.[1]

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that effective provider communication can improve outcomes by streamlining care, alleviating anxiety, boosting mutual trust, and increasing treatment adherence. To read the entire study, visit Complimentary access to “Determinants and Outcomes of Satisfaction With Healthcare Provider Communications Among Cancer Survivors” is available until October 10, 2018.

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About JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network
More than 25,000 oncologists and other cancer care professionals across the United States read JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. This peer-reviewed, indexed medical journal provides the latest information about best clinical practices, health services research, and translational medicine. JNCCN features updates on the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), review articles elaborating on guidelines recommendations, health services research, and case reports highlighting molecular insights in patient care. JNCCN is published by Harborside Press. Visit To inquire if you are eligible for a FREE subscription to JNCCN, visit Follow JNCCN on Twitter @JNCCN.

About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®), a not-for-profit alliance of 27 leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education, is dedicated to improving the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of cancer care so that patients can live better lives. Through the leadership and expertise of clinical professionals at NCCN Member Institutions, NCCN develops resources that present valuable information to the numerous stakeholders in the health care delivery system. As the arbiter of high-quality cancer care, NCCN promotes the importance of continuous quality improvement and recognizes the significance of creating clinical practice guidelines appropriate for use by patients, clinicians, and other health care decision-makers.

The NCCN Member Institutions are: Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, Omaha, NE; Case Comprehensive Cancer Center/University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, Cleveland, OH; City of Hope National Medical Center, Duarte, CA; Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center | Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, MA; Duke Cancer Institute, Durham, NC; Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA; Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT; Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Seattle, WA; The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, Baltimore, MD; Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, Chicago, IL; Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ, Jacksonville, FL, and Rochester, MN; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Moffitt Cancer Center, Tampa, FL; The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, Columbus, OH; Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, NY; Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO; St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital/The University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, TN; Stanford Cancer Institute, Stanford, CA; University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center, Birmingham, AL; UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, La Jolla, CA; UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, San Francisco, CA; University of Colorado Cancer Center, Aurora, CO; University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, Ann Arbor, MI; The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX; University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, Madison, WI; Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, TN; and Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital, New Haven, CT.

Clinicians, visit Patients and caregivers, visit Media, visit Follow NCCN on Twitter @NCCNnews and Facebook @National.Comprehensive.Cancer.Network.

[1] Basch E, Deal AM, Dueck AC, et al. Overall survival results of a trial assessing patient-reported outcomes for symptom monitoring during routine cancer treatment. JAMA 2017;318:197-198. Smith AB, Basch E. Role of patient-reported outcomes in postsurgical monitoring in oncology. J Oncol Pract 2017;13:535-538