This research project is in progress. PCORI will post the research findings on this page within 90 days after the results are final.
What is the research about?
People who are diagnosed with cancer often feel scared, anxious, or depressed. Patients who are depressed or anxious may not understand everything their doctor says. They may be less likely to follow their treatment plans. Emotional concerns such as anxiety and depression also lessen the cancer patient’s quality of life. Unfortunately, some cancer doctors may not respond to their patients’ emotional concerns. The study team is trying to help cancer doctors learn to communicate better with their patients, particularly when patients are distressed.
In a previous study, the research team created a program called SCOPE to help train cancer doctors how to communicate better with distressed patients. Doctors audio-recorded their conversations with their patients. Then the doctors received feedback from reviewers trained to look for how well doctors respond to their patients’ emotional concerns. The previous study found that cancer doctors who received training through this program responded to their patients’ emotional concerns twice as often as doctors who did not receive the training.
In the current study, doctors are using the SCOPE program as part of a process to maintain their professional certification. The professional certification process requires doctors to study and improve some part of the way they practice medicine. In this version of SCOPE, the doctor receives feedback not only from the research team, but also from cancer patients who listen to the recordings. The research team wants to see if this program improves the cancer doctors’ communication skills.
Who can this research help?
This research can help cancer doctors communicate better with their patients.
What is the research team doing?
The researchers are enrolling 100 cancer doctors who are certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and treat patients in the United States.
The research team is assigning doctors in the study to one of two groups by chance. Both groups send satisfaction surveys to a sample of their patients. After getting the satisfaction survey results, doctors in both groups audio-record conversations, using a smartphone app, with eight cancer patients during clinic visits. The doctors may select any patient with advanced cancer.
In the first group, doctors plan a project on their own to try to improve their communication with their patients. In the second group, doctors participate in the SCOPE program. Doctors in this group learn ways to improve how they talk to patients and show that they hear patients’ emotional concerns. Researchers who listen to the recordings tell doctors how many opportunities they have to respond to patients’ emotional concerns, and how often they actually do. Trained patient reviewers also tell the doctors what they liked in the recorded conversations and what the doctors could say differently.
One month after the doctors in the second group get their feedback, all the doctors in the study send out satisfaction surveys to a new group of patients and audio-record conversations with eight more patients. The study team is trying to figure out if there is a change in patients’ satisfaction with the way their cancer doctors respond to their concerns after doctors have completed the program. The researchers listen to the new set of recordings and count how often each doctor responds appropriately to their patient’s emotional concerns.
Patient advocates are participating in this project and serve as the patient reviewers. The team pays these advocates to review the doctors’ recordings. They are not patients of the doctors in the study.
Research methods at a glance
Training and Education Interventions
^James Tulsky was affiliated with Duke University when this project was funded.