Background: Patients with cancer are exposed to complex information as part of treatment and follow-up decision-making. There has been little research with cancer patients who have lower education and literacy, or the clinicians who care for them and their awareness of health literacy. This study aims to identify strategies to improve patient understanding and involvement in consultations regarding radiotherapy treatment for cancer, particularly among people with low literacy.
Methods: This qualitative study used semi-structured interviews with patients receiving radiotherapy treatment at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital were conducted in person or via telephone. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Framework analysis was used to develop a coding schema of themes identified from the interviews. The coding schema was then used to code, chart and analyse the data and compare and contrast how patient experiences differ.
Results: Twenty-one patients were interviewed, all were receiving radiotherapy treatment at the time they were interviewed. Participants had mean age of 63 (40-83) years, 65% had a partner, 32% did not complete high school, and were from a range of tumour types: breast 21%, prostate and gynaecological 15% each, rectal cancer 9%, and 39% other. The main themes identified included: access to information; decision-making; understanding treatment; and, personnel. Strategies identified included: making existing information more easily accessible outside the hospital, patient mentoring system, treatment centre tours, and seeing same staff at each visit.
Conclusions: Information about radiotherapy is understood to varying degrees by patients receiving this treatment. Improvement in information accessibility, familiarity with the treatment centre and continuity of staff involved in care may facilitate patient knowledge about treatment and its side-effects.