Expectations of treatment outcomes in patients with spinal metastases; what do we tell our patients? A qualitative study Versteeg, Anne L.; Gal, Roxanne; Charest-Morin, Raphaële; Verlaan, Jorrit-Jan; Wessels, Hester; Fisher, Charles G.; Verkooijen, Helena M.
Background Realistic pre-treatment expectations are important and have been associated with post-treatment health related quality of life (HRQOL). Patient expectations are greatly influenced by physicians, as they are the primary resource for information. This study aimed to explore the communication practices of physicians regarding treatment outcomes for patients with spinal metastases, and physician experiences with patients’ pre-treatment expectations. Methods An international qualitative study using semi-structured interviews with physicians routinely involved in treating metastatic spine disease (spine surgeons, radiation and medical oncologists, and rehabilitation specialists) was conducted. Physicians were interviewed about the content and extent of information they provide to patients with spinal metastases regarding treatment options, risks and treatment outcomes. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using a thematic coding network. Results After 22 interviews data saturation occurred. The majority of the physicians indicated that they currently do not establish patients’ pre-treatment expectations, despite acknowledging the importance of these expectations. Spine surgeons often believe that patient expectations are disproportionate. Physicians expressed they manage expectations by detailing the most common risks and providing a broad but nonspecific overview of treatment outcomes. While the palliative intent seems clear to the physicians, their perception is that the implications of a palliative treatment remains elusive to most patients. Conclusion This study highlights the current gap in patient-physician communication regarding expectations of treatment outcomes of patients with spinal metastases. These results warrant further research to improve communication practices and determine the effect of patient expectations on patient reported outcomes in this population.
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