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Author Notes:

Dr Scott E. Regenbogen, MD, MPH, 2800 Plymouth Road, Bldg. 16, 100N-28, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. sregenbo@med.umich.edu..


Research Funding:

Dr Morris and the study are supported by a generous grant from the American Cancer Society, Atlanta, GA (Research Scholar Grant #RSG-11-097-01-CPHPS).


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms
  • Communication
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • SEER Program
  • Trust

The effect of complications on the patient-surgeon relationship after colorectal cancer surgery


Journal Title:



Volume 155, Number 5


, Pages 841-850

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


Background: Trust in physicians is an essential part of therapeutic relationships. Complications are common after colorectal cancer procedures, but little is known of their effect on patient-surgeon relationships. We hypothesized that unexpected complications impair trust and communication between patients and surgeons. Methods: We performed a population-based survey of surgically diagnosed stage III colorectal cancer patients in the Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results registries for Georgia and Metropolitan Detroit between August 2011 and October 2012. Using published survey instruments, we queried subjects about trust in and communication with their surgeon. The primary predictor was the occurrence of an operative complication. We examined patient factors associated with trust and communication then compared the relationship between operative complications and patient-reported trust and communication with their surgeons. Results: Among 622 preliminary respondents (54% response rate), 25% experienced postoperative complications. Those with complications were less likely to report high trust (73% vs 81%, P =.04) and high-quality communication (80% vs 95%, P <.001). Complications reduced trust among only 4% of patient-surgeon dyads with high-quality communication, whereas complications diminished patients' trust in 50% with poorer communication (P <.001). After controlling for communication ratings, we found there was no residual effect of complications on trust (P =.96). Conclusion: Most respondents described trust in and communication with their surgeons as high. Complications were common and were associated with lower trust and poorer communication. However, the relationship between complications and trust was modified by communication. Trust remained high, even in the presence of complications, among respondents who reported high levels of patient-centered communication with their surgeons.

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© 2014 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

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