Approaching Difficult Communication Tasks in Oncology1



Effective communication skills enable physicians to improve patients' understanding of their illnesses, improve patient adherence to treatment regimens, use time efficiently, avoid burnout, and increase professional fulfillment. Common communication pitfalls include blocking, lecturing, depending on a routine, collusion, and premature reassurance. Fundamental communication skills include “ask-tell-ask,” “tell me more,” and responding empathetically. Key communication tasks that are linked to the illness trajectory include: the first visit, giving bad news, making anticancer treatment decisions, offering clinical trials, completing anticancer therapy, and discontinuing palliative chemotherapy. While enhancing or acquiring new skills ultimately requires practice and feedback over time, this article provides a cognitive map for important communication skills that physicians need over the course of caring for a person with cancer.