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Dying From Cancer: Communication, Empathy, and the Clinical Imagination.

Cripe LD, Frankel RM. Dying From Cancer: Communication, Empathy, and the Clinical Imagination. Journal of patient experience. 2017 Jun 1; 4(2):69-73.

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Medical oncologists and patients with advanced cancer struggle to discuss prognosis, goals, options, and values in a timely fashion. As a consequence, many patients die receiving aggressive treatment potentially inconsistent with their fully informed preferences and experience increased symptom burden and distress. The goals of patient - oncologist communication include exchanging information, building relationship, and engaging in shared decisions. Empathy is perhaps especially essential to effective patient - oncologist communication when the end of life is approaching. We speculate that, in addition to being a skilled response to a patient''s negative emotions, empathy is an emergent property of the relationship that allows the patient and oncologist to imagine what it will be like to navigate the transition from living with to dying from cancer; and to prepare for the transition. We propose that effective empathy: 1) requires an attentive, curious and imaginative physician; 2) acknowledges the complex and shifting goals as the end of life approaches; and 3) begins with a willingness of physicians to check in and find out what she may have misunderstood or misperceived. Empathy in end of life conversations cultivates the shared experiences necessary to co-create the new goals of care that underlie excellent end of life care.

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