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Cancer Docs' Bedside Manner Often Lacks Empathy
Date:12/19/2007

Study of physician-patient conversations shows oncologists could do better

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 19 (HealthDay News) -- Most cancer specialists do not respond to the emotional concerns of their patients with verbal expressions of empathy and support, a new study reveals.

The finding suggests that cancer patients' quality of life might be significantly improved if doctors were better trained to recognize and address patients' emotional concerns as they battle the disease.

"We audio-recorded doctor-patient interactions, and we analyzed them, and what we found is that when patients expressed negative emotions, doctors did not always respond empathetically," said study author Kathryn L. Pollak, an associate professor at Duke University Medical Center's Community and Family Medicine Department, in Durham, N.C.

Pollak's team published its findings in the Dec. 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

To assess the frequency of empathetic interactions in an oncology setting, the authors first surveyed 51 oncologists who were caring for a total of 270 cancer patients at Duke, the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, or the University of Pittsburgh.

The physicians, mostly white and male, were questioned about their level of confidence in addressing patient concerns; their sense of how various communication approaches might affect a patient; and their general comfort level with psycho-social types of conversation.

As well, the doctors were asked if they felt they were more inclined toward the technological and scientific aspects of patient care or more disposed to focus on the social and emotional side of treatment.

The researchers also recorded almost 400 audiotapes of conversations that had taken place between physicians and patients.

All the patients had advanced-stage cancer, and their physicians indicated that they would not be surprised if they ended up dying fr
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