Integrating Evidence-Based Communication Principles into Routine Cancer Care

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Purpose The global incidence of cancer and available cancer-directed therapy options is increasing rapidly, presenting patients and clinicians with more complex treatment decisions than ever before. Despite the dissemination of evidence-based communication training tools and programs, clinicians cite barriers to employing effective communication in cancer care (e.g., discomfort of sharing serious news, concern about resource constraints to meet stated needs). We present two composite cases with significant communication challenges to guide clinicians through an application of evidence-based approaches to achieve quality communication.

Methods Composite cases, communication skills blueprint, and visual conceptualization.

Results High-stakes circumstances in each case are described, including end-of-life planning, advanced pediatric illness, strong emotions, and health inequities. Three overarching communication approaches are discussed: (1) content selection and delivery; (2) rapport development; and (3) empathic connection. The key takeaways following each case provide succinct summaries of challenges encountered and approaches used. A communication blueprint from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Communication Skills Training Program and Research Laboratory has been adapted and is comprised of strategies, skills, process tasks, and sample talking points. A visually concise tool — the Communication Blueprint Traffic Circle — illustrates these concepts and demonstrates the iterative, holistic, and agile considerations inherent to effective communication.

Conclusion Evidence-based communication is foundational to person-centeredness, associated with improved clinician and patient/caregiver outcomes, and can be integrated throughout routine oncology care. When used by clinicians, evidence-based communication can improve patient and caregiver experiences and assist in ensuring goal-concordant cancer care delivery.