Empowering patients in surgical consultations with question prompt lists

Researchers at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital are developing an evidence-based question prompt list (QPL) to help patients understand complex information in their surgical consultations and ask the questions that matter to them.

A QPL is a list of suggested questions for patients to ask their doctor, helping them feel engaged, informed, and empowered throughout their journey.

Information overload

Surgical consultations involve a large amount of complex information and can be overwhelming for patients, making it hard for patients to think of and, therefore, ask important questions.

Research has shown that even when a clinician’s communication is excellent, an alarming amount of information is forgotten or not understood by patients.

“Patients and clinicians share the same goal. We all want to treat, cure, relieve, and improve a person’s health to the best of our ability. Despite this we are seeing a significant divide between patient and clinician expectations and perceptions. Nobody is to blame for this, but human memory is only capable of processing and understanding so much in a short time. Add the stress of a new cancer diagnosis into this situation and it’s hardly surprising that we see patients confused or unclear about treatment specifics.” said Professor Guy Maddern, Director of Research Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Room for improvement

Question prompt list (QPL) is a document or application with a list of suggested questions that the patient may wish to ask their surgeon before or during their consultation, with a view to helping patients gather, understand, and recall medical information and aid in decision making.

There is, however, no best-practice QPL for surgical consultations. As the first step in developing one, surgeons at the TQEH have first systematically examined the existing evidence.

They found an overall positive effect of existing QPLs on patient engagement, involvement in decision making, and overall satisfaction. Both patients and surgeons supported the use of QPL use within consultations.

However, while generally useful, the researchers concluded there was a lot of room for improvement.

“Overall, the research surrounding prompting documents in surgical consultations is lacking. We want to further understand the patient’s perspective – how they feel about the use of a prompting document and whether or not this enhances feelings of empowerment, knowledge, and understanding. We hope this simple inexpensive tool will foster an environment where patients feel empowered to ask questions, supported, and heard ” said Professor Maddern.

What’s next

The research team have taken the lessons from this study and developed their own QPL.

It is designed with a variety of questions so that each unique patient can identify questions that matter to them.

The research team have recently completed a pilot study testing the QPLs effectiveness at improving patient engagement and the results are being prepared for publication. The preliminary results from the pilot study are promising, and they set the groundwork for further research.

“Question prompting documents give patients a literal license to ask questions and extend an invitation to be a part of their own healthcare journey. We know that patients who actively engage with their treatment are much more likely to be compliant and satisfied with the outcomes. This simple intervention may result in a stronger therapeutic relationship for all involved and it costs barely anything to use.” said Professor Maddern.

Read the research

Click here to read the published systematic review.