Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 627–644 | Cite as

Clinician-patient communication: a systematic review

  • Gary Rodin
  • Jean A. Mackay
  • Camilla Zimmermann
  • Carole Mayer
  • Doris Howell
  • Mark Katz
  • Jonathan Sussman
  • Melissa Brouwers
Review Article


Goal of Work

The goal of this work was to identify methods of clinician–patient cancer-related communication that may impact patient outcomes associated with distress at critical points in the course of cancer care.

Materials and methods

A systematic review of practice guidelines, systematic reviews, or randomized trials on this topic was conducted. Guidelines for quality was evaluated using the Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation Instrument, and the contributive value for recommendations was assessed. Systematic reviews and randomized trials were also evaluated for methodological rigor.


Four existing guidelines, eight systematic reviews and nine randomized trials were identified. Two of the guidelines were of high quality, and all systematic reviews reported clear search criteria and support for their conclusions; the randomized trials were of modest or low quality. For all situations and disease stages, guidelines consistently identified open, honest, and timely communication as important; specifically, there was evidence for a reduction in anxiety when discussions of life expectancy and prognosis were included in consultations. Techniques to increase patient participation in decision-making were associated with greater satisfaction but did not necessarily decrease distress. Few studies took cultural and religious diversity into account.


There is little definitive evidence supporting the superiority of one specific method for communicating information compared to another. Evidence regarding the benefit of decision aids or other strategies to facilitate better communication is inconsistent. Since patients vary in their communication preferences and desire for active participation in decision making, there is a need to individualize communication style.


Practice guideline Systematic review Cancer Communication Relationships 



The authors would like to thank Stephanie Dziengo for confirming the accuracy of the extracted data and rating the guidelines.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gary Rodin
    • 1
  • Jean A. Mackay
    • 2
  • Camilla Zimmermann
    • 3
  • Carole Mayer
    • 4
  • Doris Howell
    • 5
  • Mark Katz
    • 6
  • Jonathan Sussman
    • 7
  • Melissa Brouwers
    • 8
  1. 1.Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative CarePrincess Margaret Hospital, University Health NetworkTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Health Information Research Unit, Faculty of Health SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  3. 3.Palliative Care ServicesPrincess Margaret Hospital, University Health NetworkTorontoCanada
  4. 4.Supportive Care Program, Supportive Care Oncology Research Unit & Sudbury Genetic Counselling ServicesRegional Cancer Program of the Hôpital/ Régional de Sudbury Regional HospitalSudburyCanada
  5. 5.Oncology Nursing ResearchPrincess Margaret Hospital, University Health NetworkTorontoCanada
  6. 6.Southlake Regional Health CentreNewmarketCanada
  7. 7.Supportive Cancer Care Research UnitMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  8. 8.McMaster University/Cancer Care Ontario Program in Evidence-based CareHamiltonCanada

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