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BMJ Open 3:e002144 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-002144
  • Qualitative research
    • Research

Recognising the importance of ‘family time-out’ in consultations: an exploratory qualitative study

  1. Rona Campbell1
  1. 1School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  3. 3Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
  4. 4Division of Surgery, Head and Neck, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Bristol, UK
  5. 5Department of Palliative Medicine, Weston Area Healthcare Trust, Weston-super-Mare, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ida J Korfage; i.korfage{at}erasmusmc.nl
  • Received 21 September 2012
  • Revised 21 November 2012
  • Accepted 3 December 2012
  • Published 16 January 2013

Abstract

Objectives Patients are often accompanied by family or companions during consultations, but little is known about how this might influence the process. We explored how the presence of a companion in a consultation contributes to communication and the decision-making process.

Design Observational study.

Setting A teaching hospital and a district general hospital in south-west England.

Participants 31 patients and their physicians were observed during consultations in which decisions to undergo palliative chemotherapy were made. Each patient was accompanied by at least one companion.

Outcome measures Communication patterns between physicians, patients and companions.

Results In addition to standard patient/physician interactions, patients and companions were often found to discuss medical information and exchange opinions between themselves without the physician actively participating. We called these instances ‘family time-out’. On the occasion of disagreement between patients and companions about preferred treatment options, physicians and patients were able to agree the decision while acknowledging the differences in opinion.

Conclusions Instances of ‘family time-out’ may contribute to better consultation outcomes because they are understood and supported by the patient's social system. This study highlights the potentially important role of exchanges between patients and companions during consultations and how physicians may benefit from observation of such exchanges. We recommend testing the value of making space for family time-out during consultations. Also, we recommend further study into the medical ethics of family time-out. While the focus here is on palliative chemotherapy, this finding has implications for other consultations, particularly those involving difficult treatment decisions.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/ and http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.

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