OBJECTIVE: Evidence now reveals that attending a follow-up program may not improve survival for low-stage gynecological cancer patients. The aim of this study was to explore health professionals' experiences with the follow-up programs and their views on follow-up in the future.
METHODS: A qualitative approach was undertaken with semi-structured focus group interviews. Three focus group interviews were conducted at neutral ground. One group with onco-gynecologists, one group with specialist nurses, and one mixed group. The main themes of the interviewguide were: Existing follow-up program, life after cancer and future follow-up. The interviews were transcribed verbatim. Patterns and themes were uncovered from the data inspired by interpretive description.
RESULTS: The doctors described most advantages, such as: Quality control of their own work, detection of sequelae after surgery, and credit and appraisal from the patients. A disadvantage was the inadequate use of the nurses' main competencies. Some dilemmas were described by the nurses as well as doctors: First, both groups were aware of the existing evidence that attendance of follow-up programs may not improve survival and yet, health professionals still performed the follow-ups and most often did not address this paradox for the patients. Second, the existing follow-up program seemed to bring the patients comfort and security on one hand, but on the other hand it seemed to induce insecurity and anxiety. The health professionals agreed that future follow-up should be individualized with focus on the single patients' needs and psychological wellbeing. The health professionals identified a great challenge in communicating the evidence and the forthcoming changes in the follow-up programs to the patients.
CONCLUSIONS: This study revealed that the existing follow-up regime contains several dilemmas. According to the health professionals, future follow-up must be more individualized, and a shift in focus is needed from relapse to quality of life after cancer.