The role of empathic nursing telephone interventions with advanced cancer patients: A qualitative study


Purpose: Effective symptom management and provider-patient communication are critical components of quality palliative cancer care. Studies suggest nurse-telephone-interventions are feasible, acceptable and may improve the provision and satisfaction with care. However, little is known about what specific elements of nurse-telephone-interventions are most beneficial. The study's purpose was to describe the nature and key elements of therapeutic calls made by nurses to advanced cancer patients to understand what may have previously contributed to improvement in patients who received the intervention.

Methods: As part of a larger study on methylphenidate and/or a nurse-telephone-intervention for fatigue in advanced cancer patients from a tertiary hospital, nurse calls were made to 95 patients. This qualitative descriptive study used thematic analysis of transcribed telephone calls between nurses and advanced cancer patients.

Results: The overarching theme of these calls was supporting patients with empathy. Empathy in these conversations included nurses' efforts to understand patients' experiences, nurses communicating their understanding back to patients and nurses taking action in response to their understanding of patients’ experiences. While humor and validation were used to communicate empathy, problem solving and providing support constituted the content of empathic communication.

Conclusions: This study illustrates a nurse-telephone-interventions that embraced multiple components of clinical empathy. Nurse-telephone-interventions are feasible and acceptable with diverse, advanced cancer patients. The growing evidence base underscoring the numerous benefits of medical empathy may serve as a basis for adopting simple, feasible and accessible approaches such as empathic nurse-telephone-interventions in both research and clinical practice.


School of Nursing

Document Type





Advanced cancer, Diverse patients, Empathy, Nurse telephone interventions, Palliative care

Publication Date


Journal Title

European Journal of Oncology Nursing