Improving physicians’ communication skills and reducing cancer patients’ anxiety: a quasi-experimental study

Aims and Background: This study is aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of a physician-centered communication skills training program on cancer patient anxiety levels.
Methods and Study design: In this quasi-experimental study, physicians from 9 units of 5 general hospitals and 1 cancer research institute were recruited. The unit heads chose which physicians would attend the training program (treatment group) and which would not (control group). The effectiveness of the course was evaluated by assessing the evolution of state anxiety in a sample of cancer patients before and after clinical consultations.
Results: Thirty-eight physicians and 339 outpatients were assessed. Patients from the treatment and control groups did not differ in pre-examination anxiety or psychological distress levels. Patients examined by physicians from the treatment group displayed a higher decrease in state-anxiety levels compared with those examined by physicians from the control group. A higher proportion of high anxiety levels was found in women, in less educated patients, and in those with a high distress level.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest the effectiveness of the communication skills training program with reference to patient anxiety levels. Given the potential gap between training and clinical impact, further studies investigating the effect of communication training on patient outcomes are needed.