Supportive Care in Cancer

, Volume 20, Issue 7, pp 1457–1464

Physician endorsement alone may not enhance question-asking by advanced cancer patients during consultations about palliative care

  • Josephine M. Clayton
  • Christine Natalia
  • Phyllis N. Butow
  • Judy M. Simpson
  • Angela M. O’Brien
  • Rhonda Devine
  • Martin H. N. Tattersall
Original Article



This study aimed to explore the effect of physician endorsement of question-asking on advanced cancer patients’ question-asking behaviour during consultations about palliative care and to explore other potential predictors of patient question-asking.


Data were obtained from 80 control group patients from a randomised controlled trial of standard palliative care (PC) consultation (control group) versus provision of a question prompt list (QPL) before the consultation. Consecutive eligible patients with advanced cancer referred to 15 PC physicians from nine Australian PC centres participated. Baseline measures were obtained from patients; consultations were audiotaped, transcribed and analysed by blinded coders; and physicians estimated the patients’ survival.


Endorsement of question-asking by the physician was not related to the number of patient questions. Patients with the highest anxiety levels asked 3.5 times as many questions as those with least anxiety (incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 3.54, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.90–6.59, P = 0.001). After allowing for the effect of anxiety, patients with an estimated survival of >12 weeks asked 76% more questions (IRR = 1.76, 95% CI 1.03–3.00, P = 0.04), whereas age, sex, educational background, occupation, information and involvement preferences and presence of a caregiver were not related to patient question-asking behaviour.


Physician endorsement of question-asking alone does not appear to increase questions by advanced cancer patients during consultations about PC. Additional resources such as QPLs may be needed to facilitate patient question-asking.


Communication Palliative care Patient participation Physician–patient relations Question prompt lists Truth disclosure 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Josephine M. Clayton
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
    • 6
  • Christine Natalia
    • 1
    • 2
  • Phyllis N. Butow
    • 1
    • 3
  • Judy M. Simpson
    • 4
  • Angela M. O’Brien
    • 1
  • Rhonda Devine
    • 1
  • Martin H. N. Tattersall
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Medical Psychology and Evidence-based Decision-makingUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.School of PsychologyUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  4. 4.School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Hammond Care Palliative and Supportive Care Service, Greenwich HospitalSydneyAustralia
  6. 6.Department of Palliative CareRoyal North Shore HospitalSydneyAustralia

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