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Communicating with child patients in pediatric oncology consultations: a vignette study on child patients', parents', and survivors' communication preferences



Objective: To investigate the preferences of children with cancer, their parents, and survivors of childhood cancer regarding medical communication with child patients and variables associated with these preferences.

Methods: Preferences regarding health-care provider empathy in consultations, and children's involvement in information exchange and medical decision making were investigated by means of vignettes. Vignettes are brief descriptions of hypothetical situations, in which important factors are systematically varied following an experimental design. In total, 1440 vignettes were evaluated by 34 children with cancer (aged 8–16), 59 parents, and 51 survivors (aged 8–16 at diagnosis, currently aged 10–30). Recruitment of participants took place in three Dutch university-based pediatric oncology centers. Data were analyzed by multilevel analyses.

Results: Patients, parents, and survivors indicated the importance of health-care providers' empathy in 81% of the described situations. In most situations (70%), the three respondent groups preferred information about illness and treatment to be given to patients and parents simultaneously. Preferences regarding the amount of information provided to patients varied. The preference whether or not to shield patients from information was mainly associated with patients' age and emotionality. In most situations (71%), the three respondent groups preferred children to participate in medical decision making. This preference was mainly associated with patients' age.

Conclusions: To be able to adapt communication to parents' and patients' preferences, health-care providers should repeatedly assess the preferences of both groups. Future studies should investigate how health-care providers balance their communication between the sometimes conflicting preferences of patients and parents. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.