Health professionals and cancer patients: How to communicate effectively about complementary, integrative and alternative medicine
The use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in oncology settings is widespread. Improving CAM-related communication within the sphere of conventional cancer care is crucial to patient safety, optimal treatment outcomes and the patient’s trust in healthcare professionals. Studies have revealed, however, that only a few oncologists and physicians feel comfortable discussing CAM with cancer patients. This situation may have arisen as the result of various barriers to communication, including insufficient scientific knowledge, of the risks and positive outcomes of CAM. Other factors might involve lack of time during clinical consultations and also concerns about the financial costs associated with CAM use. Although many cancer patients express a wish to disclose their use of CAM to healthcare professionals, less than 50% actually do so. Of the cancer patients raising the subject of CAM use in oncology settings, quite a number have reported negative experiences as a consequence; some of these may even have led to a decision to delay or even decline important conventional treatment. Effective communication is thus an essential component in upholding the cancer patient’s trust in healthcare professionals, as well as acting to encourage the patient’s likelihood of adhering to evidence-based recommendations. Delays in conventional cancer treatment, or negative interactions between conventional and CAM treatments, might thereby be more effectively avoided.