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The way doctors communicate with breast cancer patients can have a significant impact on the patient’s psychological well-being. Empathy and open discussion of uncertainties are crucial elements in the healing and recovery of breast cancer patients. According to a Rutgers study examining how oncology doctors facilitate psychological well-being, clinicians who show more empathy promote better psychological health among breast cancer patients.
“Our findings suggest that provider communication is a key component to reducing uncertainty, and thus providers play a key role in helping to facilitate psychological well-being,” said Liesl Broadbridge, a doctoral degree candidate at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I) and the lead author of the study published in Patient Education and Counselling.
According to research, it is essential to patients’ healing and rehabilitation to talk about uncertainty with them and empathize with their worries.
“Our findings are directly applicable as targets for communication training modules for health care providers because by continuing to advance skills in empathic communication, clinicians can enhance the health care experiences of their patients,” Broadbridge said.
Managing the psychological well-being of breast cancer patients is critical
Research has shown that people with breast cancer are significantly more likely to have anxiety and depressive symptoms after receiving their cancer diagnosis.
“As health communication researchers, we are interested in how health care providers can communicate in ways that help their patients cope with/manage their illness and support their psychological health,” said Broadbridge.
The research team also investigated how the way in which psychological well-being is managed varies depending on whether the cancer patients they questioned were still receiving therapy for the disease or had already finished their course of treatment.
According to her, different appointment kinds are experienced by present and former patients (e.g., watchful waiting for former patients versus therapeutic decision-making for current patients). As a result, they have had varying amounts of time to become used to their diagnoses and, possibly, have varying connections with their healthcare providers (i.e., more or less time).
“Although our findings were true for both current and former patients, the strength of the relationship between uncertainty and psychological adjustment was stronger for former patients than for current patients,” Broadbridge said. “This means that cancer care teams must continue to focus on uncertainty and issues regarding psychological health in cancer monitoring appointments and beyond the initial diagnosis/treatment phases of breast cancer survivorship.”
Clinicians play an important role in managing physical and emotional/psychological health after breast cancer diagnosis
Current and previous breast cancer patients’ opinions of their doctors’ communication, their level of ambiguity regarding their diagnosis/treatment, and their coping mechanisms were evaluated by the researchers using online surveys.
Through the Love Research Army, a research registry run by the Dr. Susan Love Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, a national advocacy group for breast cancer patients, survivors, and at-risk family members, they attracted 121 current and 187 former breast cancer patients to take part in the study.
The authors collaborated with this neighbourhood group in order to increase the sample size beyond the confines of New Brunswick and to add to the bigger discussions regarding cancer communication. The group collaborated with the Rutgers Cancer Institute, and thanks to a Cancer Survivorship and Outcomes Centre Award, three of the study’s participants—Broadbridge, Greene, and Devine—received $4,800 to finish the experiment.
“The findings of this study highlight the importance of both eliciting and addressing breast cancer patients’ uncertainty throughout the cancer trajectory to facilitate psychological adjustment,” Broadbridge said. “This is important because it underscores the role that clinicians play in helping patients manage both their physical and emotional/psychological health after breast cancer diagnosis.”
Materials provided by Rutgers University. Original written by Carol Peters. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
Elizabeth Broadbridge, Kathryn Greene, Maria K. Venetis, Lauren E. Lee, Smita C. Banerjee, Biren Saraiya, Katie A. Devine. Facilitating psychological adjustment for breast cancer patients through empathic communication and uncertainty reduction. Patient Education and Counseling, 2023; 114: 107791 DOI: 10.1016/j.pec.2023.107791
Rutgers University. “Empathetic cancer clinicians promote psychological well-being in breast cancer patients.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/10/231016222111.htm>.
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