Balancing risks and rewards: How hematologists discuss uncertainty in allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation outcomes

Rachel A. Rodenbach, Thorunn Thordardottir, Markus Brauer, Aric C. Hall, Earlise Ward, Cardinale B. Smith, Toby C. Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant (alloHCT) offers many patients with blood cancers a chance of cure but carries risks. We characterized how hematologists discuss the high-risk, high-reward concept of alloHCT. Methods: Qualitative analysis of video-recorded virtual encounters of hematologists who routinely perform alloHCT with actors portraying an older man recently diagnosed with high-risk myelodysplastic syndrome. Results: Hematologists (n = 37) were a median age of 44 years, 65% male, and 68% white. They frequently used “teeter-totter” language that juxtaposed alloHCT's risks and rewards in a dynamic, quickly alternating fashion and communicated uncertainty in transplant outcomes. This dialogue oscillated between encouragement about alloHCT's potential for cure and caution about its risks and occurred within single speech turns and in exchanges between hematologist and patient. Fewer hematologists outlined their big-picture stance on transplant's risks and benefits early in the conversation. Meanwhile, hematologists varied in how they counseled patients to manage transplant-related uncertainty and consider treatment decision making. Conclusion: Hematologists use “teeter-totter” language to express hope and concern, confidence and uncertainty, and encouragement and caution about the high-risk, high-reward nature of alloHCT. Practice implications: Teeter-totter language may help frame big-picture content about alloHCT's risks and benefits that is essential for patient education and decision making.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108177
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
StatePublished - Jun 2024


  • Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation
  • Decision making
  • Hematology
  • Physician-patient communication
  • Risk-benefit discussion
  • Uncertainty


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