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The effect of complications on the patient-surgeon relationship after colorectal cancer surgery

Published:December 16, 2013DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.surg.2013.12.011

      Background

      Trust in physicians is an essential part of therapeutic relationships. Complications are common after colorectal cancer procedures, but little is known of their effect on patient-surgeon relationships. We hypothesized that unexpected complications impair trust and communication between patients and surgeons.

      Methods

      We performed a population-based survey of surgically diagnosed stage III colorectal cancer patients in the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results registries for Georgia and Metropolitan Detroit between August 2011 and October 2012. Using published survey instruments, we queried subjects about trust in and communication with their surgeon. The primary predictor was the occurrence of an operative complication. We examined patient factors associated with trust and communication then compared the relationship between operative complications and patient-reported trust and communication with their surgeons.

      Results

      Among 622 preliminary respondents (54% response rate), 25% experienced postoperative complications. Those with complications were less likely to report high trust (73% vs 81%, P = .04) and high-quality communication (80% vs 95%, P < .001). Complications reduced trust among only 4% of patient-surgeon dyads with high-quality communication, whereas complications diminished patients' trust in 50% with poorer communication (P < .001). After controlling for communication ratings, we found there was no residual effect of complications on trust (P = .96).

      Conclusion

      Most respondents described trust in and communication with their surgeons as high. Complications were common and were associated with lower trust and poorer communication. However, the relationship between complications and trust was modified by communication. Trust remained high, even in the presence of complications, among respondents who reported high levels of patient-centered communication with their surgeons.
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