Background: Childhood cancer often involves a long-term engagement of children and their parents with health services. During this journey, communications between professionals, parents and young people can be stressful for all the stakeholders. This study explores the communication preferences in paediatric oncology.
Objectives: The objective of the present exploratory qualitative study was to understand the views of professionals regarding information exchange during cancer treatment of children and complement these findings with clinic-based ethnographic observation of real-life consultations.
Methods: Using qualitative methods, in-depth interviews were conducted with paediatric oncology professionals. The interviews had been audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Alongside in-depth interviews, real-life interactions between parents, professionals and children were observed. Data were analysed using a thematic analysis framework as suggested by Braun and Clark.
Results: Paediatric oncology professionals (n = 14) were interviewed from diverse professional backgrounds that included consultant paediatric oncologists, junior specialist trainees in paediatric oncology, paediatric oncology nurses, social workers, survivor counsellor and psychologists looking after children with cancer. Additionally, clinic-based ethnographic observations (n = 10) of interactions between professionals, parents and young people were also conducted. The following themes emerged from the interviews: a) Information needs of children were very different from adolescents. Children were more worried about ‘here and now’; b) adolescents were, on the other hand, mostly worried about the ‘impact of cancer on their broader life, friendships and academics’; c) parents were curious about the outcome, costs and effectiveness of treatment, and different patterns emerged for mothers and fathers; d) information needs were dynamic and different at the start of the treatment, during treatment, at remission or end of life; e) the journey of the clinicians themselves impacted information-sharing practices; and f) direct observation of consultations highlighted the importance of priming parents before delivery of information, having multiple family members during the conversation and managing intense emotions expressed during the session.
Conclusion: Paediatric oncology professionals need to be sensitive about the dynamic nature of information needs while interacting with children and parents of children with cancer. The above findings may help tailor the discussions that professionals ought to have with families with a child with cancer. The results may contribute to the understanding as well as to developing training courses on communications in paediatric oncology for low- and middle-income countries.