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Tanco K, Rhondali W, Perez-Cruz P, et al. Patient Perception of Physician Compassion After a More Optimistic vs a Less Optimistic Message: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Oncol. 2015;1(2):176–183. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2014.297
Information regarding treatment options and prognosis is essential for patient decision making. Patient perception of physicians as being less compassionate when they deliver bad news might be a contributor to physicians’ reluctance in delivering these types of communication.
To compare patients’ perception of physician compassion after watching video vignettes of 2 physicians conveying a more optimistic vs a less optimistic message, determine patients’ physician preference after watching both videos, and establish demographic and clinical predictors of compassion.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Randomized clinical trial at an outpatient supportive care center in a cancer center in Houston, Texas, including English-speaking adult patients with advanced cancer who were able to understand the nature of the study and complete the consent process. Actors and patients were blinded to the purpose of the study. Investigators were blinded to the videos observed by the patient.
One hundred patients were randomized to observe 2 standardized, roughly 4-minute videos depicting a physician discussing treatment information (more optimistic message vs less optimistic message) with a patient with advanced cancer. Both physicians made an identical number of empathetic statements (5) and displayed identical posture. After viewing each video, patients completed assessments including the Physician Compassion Questionnaire (0 = best, 50 = worst).
Main Outcomes and Measures
Patients’ perception of physician compassion after being exposed to a more optimistic vs an equally empathetic but less optimistic message.
Patients reported significantly better compassion scores after watching the more optimistic video as compared with the less optimistic video (median [interquartile range], 15 [5-23] vs 23 [10-31]; P < .001). There was a sequence effect favoring the second video on both compassion scores (P < .001) and physician preference (P < .001). Higher perception of compassion was found to be associated with greater trust in the medical profession independent of message type: 63 patients observing the more optimistic message ranked the physician as trustworthy vs 39 after the less optimistic message (P = .03).
Conclusions and Relevance
Patients perceived a higher level of compassion and preferred physicians who provided a more optimistic message. More research is needed in structuring less optimistic message content to support health care professionals in delivering less optimistic news.
clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT02357108
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