Guidelines regarding healthcare provider communication about immunotherapy do not currently exist. Researchers sought to determine patient and provider preferences for this type of information and to identify barriers to communication about immunotherapy. The study’s findings were presented at the 2017 ASCO Annual Meeting.

The researchers qualitatively interviewed 15 oncology professionals who offer immunotherapy treatment about the information they deemed important to communicate to patients and any barriers they experienced. They then interviewed 18 patients with cancer about the information that was most useful to them and their impressions of immunotherapy. Patient impressions were captured on two 1–5 scales (with 5 being “very positive impression” and “very likely to be cured”) and by picking words from a list of positive and negative terms like “effective” and “risky.” Open-ended responses were qualitatively coded. “We reached saturation of themes with 18 patients,” the authors noted.

The four areas that patients identified as useful topics included:

  • Treatment options
  • Benefits
  • Treatment logistics
  • Side effects.

The three area that providers identified as important topics included:

  • Side effects
  • Realistic view of benefit
  • Treatment logistics.

From the provider perspective, the most frequently identified barrier to communication was patients’ baseline misconceptions about immunotherapy’s effectiveness. In addition, patients’ impressions of immunotherapy were very positive, with an average score of 4 on impressions scale and 3.9 on the potential to be cured scale. The most frequently chosen word patients used to describe immunotherapy was “hopeful” (n = 10; 55%).

“Communication is hampered by patients’ preconceptions about immunotherapy’s effectiveness,” the authors concluded. “Communication guidelines should identify techniques to effectively overcome this barrier.”

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