Sunday, 24 March 2013

It is not what you say, but how you say it that matters

So says Hanan El Malla, a psychologist at the Children’s Cancer Hospital, Cairo, Egypt. And very rightly so.  We as doctors are often guilty of so many basic communication errors when dealing with our patients. We don't talk enough, don't talk early enough, don't listen, don't simplify and then there are all the nuances of the way we talk - condescending, impatient, impersonal, lack of empathy. Traditionally, we in India have not paid attention to our communication skills (and have never been trained) and there are still many non-believers among us that remain to be convinced about the importance of communication. This becomes all the more relevant in children with cancer, where a treating physician will have to make several conversations (some difficult ones) with the child and the family over the period of their treatment.

In a study of 304 parents of children with cancer treated at the Children's Cancer Hospital in Cairo, Hanan and her colleagues looked at PARENTAL TRUST IN HEALTHCARE during treatment as a function of the communication with them at the beginning. There were six independent variables which were significantly related to parental trust.
  1. Information received about the child’s disease
  2. Information received about the child’s treatment
  3. Opportunity to communicate with the child’s physicians
  4. Being satisfied with the conversational style of the child’s physicians
  5. Perception that the child’s physicians were sensitive to the parent’s emotional needs
  6. Considering that the child’s physicians had met the parents with care
Further, parental trust in the physician and the medical care was NOT RELATED to the amount of information given to the parents of children with cancer.

Why is all this important? Because communication and trust are so inextricably linked with treatment abandonment. As part of initiatives to prevent and tackle treatment abandonment, one has to address communication.

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