Interventions to enhance communication among patients, providers, and families.
Whether patient suffering is caused by physical symptoms, unwanted medical intervention, or spiritual crisis, the common pathway to relief is through a provider who is able to elicit these concerns and is equipped to help the patient and family address them. This paper reviews the current state of knowledge in communication at the end of life, organized according to a framework of information gathering, information giving, and relationship building; and then focuses on interventions to enhance communication among patients, providers, and families. Several observations emerge from the existing literature. Patients have highly individualized desires for information and we cannot predict patient preferences. Communication coding methodology has advanced significantly yet the current systems remain poorly understood and largely inaccessible. Physicians and other health care providers do not discuss sufficiently treatment options, quality of life or respond to emotional cues from patients, and there is plenty of room for improvement. On the positive side, we have also learned that physicians and other health care providers can be taught to communicate better through intensive communication courses, and that communication interventions can improve some patient outcomes. Finally, huge gaps remain in our current knowledge, particularly with regard to understanding the relationship between communication style and outcomes. These findings suggest several recommendations. We should create larger and more diverse datasets; improve upon the analysis of recorded communication data; increase our knowledge about patient preferences for information; establish a stronger link between specific communication behaviors and outcomes; and identify more efficient ways to teach providers communication skills.
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