Study Looks at Patient Perception of Harm During Cancer Care

Many believe they experienced a preventable, harmful event during cancer care, but few report

WEDNESDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Cancer patients may often experience what they believe to be a preventable, harmful event during the diagnosis or treatment of their cancer, but rarely do they formally report these events, according to research published online April 16 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Kathleen M. Mazor, Ed.D., of the Meyers Primary Care Institute in Worcester, Mass., and colleagues conducted in-depth telephone interviews with 416 patients within a Health Maintenance Organization network who had completed initial therapy for operable breast or colon cancer. The authors sought to identify those who believed that something had gone wrong during their cancer care that could have been prevented and who perceived that the event caused or could have caused them significant harm.

The researchers found that, overall, 93 patients (22 percent) believed that something had gone wrong that had either caused or could have caused harm or that had been preventable. Among the 78 patients who completed interviews, the most commonly reported perceptions included communication problems, including information exchange or the manner in which it was relayed (47 percent); problems with medical care, such as delayed diagnosis or treatment (28 percent); or problems with both medical care and communication (24 percent). Most of the events were never reported, nor did clinicians initiate any discussion of the problematic events. However, the cancer patients perceived that the harms caused by these problems impacted them physically and emotionally, disrupted their life, affected family members, damaged their relationship with their health care provider, and led to additional financial expense.

"These findings suggest that patient-perceived problematic events in cancer care may be relatively common, physically and emotionally harmful, and often are not formally reported," the authors write. "As health care institutions strive to develop patient-centered cultures of care, additional consideration should be given to how improved communication with patients could prevent problems in care, as well as to what systems would encourage patients to alert their clinicians to perceived problems in care and facilitate an effective response."

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