Twenty-first Century Bedside Manner: Exploring Patient-Centered Communication in Secure Messaging with Cancer Patients


Patient-centered communication (PCC) is integral to providing high-quality health care and is recommended to be incorporated during face-to-face consultations. Electronic communication, such as the use of secure messaging (SM) within patient portals, is a popular form of patient-provider communication, but preliminary studies have shown that PCC is rarely utilized by providers in SM. As a consequence, the patient-provider relationship can be negatively affected, especially for cancer patients who have greater electronic health information needs than the general population. Therefore, our objective was to determine the importance of SM to cancer patients and to identify which attributes of PCC are preferred to be incorporated into secure messages. Five focus groups were conducted, comprised of patients with a current or previous cancer diagnosis (three all-female; two all-male). Participants recalled their own experiences and reviewed simulated messages. Three main topics emerged from the thematic analysis: (1) the normalization of SM, (2) SM quality can affect perceptions of care, and (3) patients need guidance. Overall, participants valued the ability to communicate with their care team using SM and indicated that electronic communication may have the potential to have just as big of an impact on a patient’s care than in-person communication.

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Research reported in this publication was supported by the University of Florida Health Cancer Center through the Florida Consortium of National Cancer Institute Centers Program at the University of Florida.

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Correspondence to Jordan M. Alpert.

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Alpert, J.M., Markham, M.J., Bjarnadottir, R.I. et al. Twenty-first Century Bedside Manner: Exploring Patient-Centered Communication in Secure Messaging with Cancer Patients. J Canc Educ 36, 16–24 (2021).

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  • Secure messaging
  • Patient portal
  • Qualitative research
  • Focus groups
  • Health communication