Provider Verbal Responses to Patient Distress Cues During Ambulatory Oncology Visits

Lisa Kennedy Sheldon

Dany M. Hilaire

Donna L. Berry

distress, distress screening, patient fears
ONF 2011, 38(3), 369-375. DOI: 10.1188/11.ONF.369-375

Purpose/Objectives: To explore healthcare provider cue-responding behaviors to patient cues of distress and socioemotional concerns during ambulatory, on-treatment oncology visits.

Design: Descriptive secondary analysis of a data set of audio recordings of oncology visits and reports of symptoms and quality of life recorded with an electronic self-report assessment-cancer (ESRA-C) tool.

Setting: Comprehensive cancer center, ambulatory care.

Sample: 31 randomly selected cases from an existing data set (with one used as a training tool) of 590 audio recordings of patient-provider communication.

Methods: Patients were placed in Group 1 (n = 20) and Group 2 (n = 10) to explore differences in patient-provider communication and decrease coder bias. Both groups completed the ESRA-C questionnaire prior to the visit. Providers in Group 2 received a printed ESRA-C summary report for use during the visit. Audio files of the visit were coded using the Medical Interview Aural Rating System (MIARS).

Main Research Variables: Patient cues of distress and provider cue-responding behaviors.

Findings: Patient cues of distress and socioemotional concerns ranged from 0-13 cues per visit, with a mean of 4.6 cues per visit. Providers acknowledged 57% of patient cues, but only acknowledged and explored 22% of all patient cues. Providers in Group 2 acknowledged patient concerns more often but explored the concerns less frequently. The number of patient cues distanced from by providers was lower in Group 2 and the overall provider score for responsiveness to patient cues of distress was higher, indicating more responsiveness than from Group 1.

Conclusions: The use of a summary report of patient concerns may have enhanced provider responsiveness, in general. Distancing behaviors by providers in response to patient verbal cues may indicate a lack of knowledge, time limitations, or a lack of confidence.

Implications for Nursing: To effectively support patients with cancer through active therapy, a greater level of acknowledgment, exploration, and responsive action by providers is indicated. These findings have implications for provider education, with regard to appropriate responses, and for researchers to test methods that best prompt and support effective provider behaviors, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

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