Cancer patients' perceptions regarding the value of the physical examination: A survey study

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Despite its clinical utility, progressive reliance on technology can lead to devaluing the physical examination in patients with advanced cancer. The primary objective of this study was to determine whether these patients have a positive or negative perception of the physical examination. A secondary objective was to determine whether these perceptions are related to interpersonal/relational values (symbolic) or diagnostic/objective values (pragmatic).

METHODS:

One hundred fifty patients with cancer who were receiving concurrent oncology and palliative care were administered a 26-item survey regarding their overall perception of the physical examination. The primary outcome—patient responses to “In the last 3 months, I believe my experience while being examined has been overall: very negative (a score of −5) to very positive (a score of +5),”—was analyzed using the Sign test. Other items were predefined as either symbolic or pragmatic statements, and patient responses from strongly disagree (a score of 1) to strongly agree (a score of 5) were further analyzed. Multivariable logistic regression was used to test for associations between baseline characteristics and the primary outcome.

RESULTS:

Most patients (83%) indicated that the overall experience of being examined was highly positive (median score, 4; interquartile range [IQR], 2-5; P ≤ .0001). Patients valued both the pragmatic aspects (median score, 5; IQR, 4-5) and symbolic aspects (median score, 4; IQR, 4-5) of the physical examination. Increasing age was independently associated with a more positive perception of the physical examination (odds ratio, 1.07 per year; 95% confidence interval, 1.02-1.12 per year; P = .01).

CONCLUSIONS:

Patients with advanced cancer indicate that the physical examination is a highly positive aspect of their care. These benefits are perceived as having both symbolic and pragmatic value. The physical examination should remain a cornerstone of clinical encounters. Cancer2014;120:2215–2221. © 2014 American Cancer Society.

There are no studies on how patients with advanced cancer perceive being routinely examined. Beyond diagnostic utility, the physical examination appears to have symbolic significance and should not be minimized in patients with advanced cancer.

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