Most patients with cancer experience at least one nutrition-related symptom in the outpatient setting but say they’re not having nutrition conversations with their cancer care team—yet providers think they are. The contrary reports came from study findings researchers published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.

Using a mixed-method, exploratory design, researchers surveyed patients (N = 90) and oncology care team (N = 55). Survey questions for patients focused on nutrition-related side effects and their experiences with nutrition care. Surveys for oncology team members asked questions about practices on nutrition screening, nutrition education, and referral to registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), as well as their knowledge of oncology nutrition care services available.

The findings conflicted in two areas:

  • Frequency of conversations: Most patients (n = 76) said that they infrequently discussed nutrition topics with oncology care team members, whereas most providers said that they always or frequently discussed nutrition with patients.
  • Content of conversations: Cancer care team members said they preferred to answer nutrition questions to the best of their ability and then refer patients to reputable websites, whereas patients preferred talking directly to an oncology team member or RDN over receiving resources to review themselves.

The authors suggested that one factor for the discrepancy between patient and provider perceptions could be the nature of the conversations, communication approach, and an inability for both sides to remember everything discussed during a medical appointment. “A first step is to shift the mindset from ensuring patients receive reactive nutrition care to educating nurses about the importance of proactive, preventive nutrition care to improve patient outcomes,” they concluded.

Get tips to improve your patient communication skills, then use the resources in ONS’s Nutrition Learning Library to apply them to your patient conversations.