Cancer patients’ needs for virtues and physicians’ characteristics in physician-patient communication: a survey among patient representatives

  • M. Bartholomäus
  • B. Zomorodbakhsch
  • O. Micke
  • F. J. Prott
  • I. Rudolph
  • E. Seilacher
  • A. Hochhaus
  • Jutta HuebnerEmail author
Original Article



Data on patients’ needs with respect to physicians’ ethical behavior and virtues are important but not available in most cases.

Patients and methods

In an iterative process together with patients’ representatives, we developed a standardized questionnaire which was distributed to the representatives of the Women’s Self-Help after Cancer in Germany. We started with the classical ethical virtues and clustered them to characteristics. The patients’ representatives were asked to rate in different communications settings.


One hundred eighty-six patients’ representatives took part in the survey. For four communication situations (first communication on symptoms, diagnosis of cancer, choice of therapy, doubts on therapy), competence was rated as very important by 80–89% and as important by 6–7%; honesty as very important by 78–89% and as important by 5–12%; respect as very important by 66–71% and as important by 19–21%; and patience as very important by 55–68% and as important by 6–24%. Compassion was rated as less important, with only 24–31% rating it as very important and another 26–32% as important. Additional desires expressed by the participants were physicians having more time (9.1%) and a better relationship between physician and patient (7.0%).


Competence, honesty, respect, and patience are important characteristics which should be focused on in communication training of medical students and physicians. In spite of compassion being rated as less important, training on compassion/empathy might help doctors to improve coping with the continuous confrontation with complications, progress, suffering, and death of their patients.


Breast cancer Ethical considerations Patient needs Virtues Physician-patient communication 



We thank the Women’s Self-Help Organization “Frauenselbsthilfe nach Krebs” for their active participation in the development and distribution of the questionnaire.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Bartholomäus
    • 1
  • B. Zomorodbakhsch
    • 2
  • O. Micke
    • 3
  • F. J. Prott
    • 4
  • I. Rudolph
    • 5
  • E. Seilacher
    • 5
  • A. Hochhaus
    • 1
  • Jutta Huebner
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Klinik für Innere Medizin II, Hämatologie und Internistische OnkologieUniversitätsklinikum JenaJenaGermany
  2. 2.Paracelsus-Klinik am See, Fachklinik für onkologische RehabilitationBad GandersheimGermany
  3. 3.Klinik für Strahlentherapie und RadioonkologieFranziskus HospitalBielefeldGermany
  4. 4.RNS Praxisgemeinschaft GbRWiesbadenGermany
  5. 5.Deutsche KrebsgesellschaftBerlinGermany

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