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Academic Physician Specialists’ Approaches to Counseling Patients Interested in Unproven Stem Cell and Regenerative Therapies—A Qualitative Analysis



      To explore the experiences, approaches, and challenges of physicians consulting patients about experimental stem cell and regenerative medicine interventions (SCRIs).

      Participants and Methods

      From August 21, 2018, through July 30, 2019, semistructured interviews of 25 specialists in cardiology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, pulmonology, and neurology were conducted and qualitatively analyzed using modified grounded theory.


      All specialists used informational approaches to counsel patients, especially orthopedists. Informational approaches included explaining stem cell science, sharing risks, and providing principles. Several specialists also used relational counseling approaches including emphasizing that physicians want what is best for patients, acknowledging suffering, reassuring continued care, empathizing with patients and families, and underscoring that patients have the final decision. Many specialists reported being comfortable with the conversation, although some were less comfortable and several noted challenges in the consultation including wanting to support a patient’s decision but worrying about harms from unproven SCRIs, navigating family pressure, and addressing stem cell hype and unrealistic expectations. Specialists also desired that additional resources be available for them and patients.


      Physicians relied more heavily on providing patients with information about SCRIs than using relational counseling approaches. Efforts should be directed at helping physicians address the informational and relational needs of patients, including providing tools and resources that inform physicians about the unproven SCRI industry, building skills in empathic communication, and the creation and dissemination of evidence-based resources to offer patients.

      Abbreviations and Acronyms:

      CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), SCRI (stem cell and regenerative intervention)
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