Efficacy of a telephone outcall program to reduce caregiver burden among caregivers of cancer patients [PROTECT]: A randomised controlled trial

Leila Heckel, Kate M. Fennell, John Reynolds, Anna Boltong, Mari Botti, Richard H. Osborne, Cathrine Mihalopoulos, Jacquie Chirgwin, Melinda Williams, Cadeyrn J. Gaskin, David M. Ashley, Patricia M. Livingston

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Background: Informal caregivers provide extended support to people with cancer but they receive little support from the health care system to assist them in their caring role. The aim of this single-blind, multi-centre, randomised controlled trial was to test the efficacy of a telephone outcall program to reduce caregiver burden and unmet needs, and improve psychological well-being among cancer caregivers, as well as evaluating the potential impact on patient outcomes. Methods: Cancer patient/caregiver dyads (N = 216) were randomised to a telephone outcall program (n = 108) or attention control group (n = 108). The primary outcome was self-reported caregiver burden. Secondary endpoints included depressive symptoms, unmet needs, self-esteem, self-empowerment, and health literacy. Data were collected at baseline and at both 1 and 6 months post-intervention. An intention to treat analysis was performed. Results: The intervention had no effect on the primary outcome (caregiver burden), but reduced the number of caregiver unmet needs (intervention group baseline, mean = 2.66, 95% confidence interval (CI) [1.91-3.54]; intervention group 1month post intervention, mean = 0.85, 95%CI [0.42-1.44]; control group baseline, mean = 1.30 95%CI [0.80-1.94], control group 1month post intervention, mean = 1.02 95%CI [0.52-1.69]; p = 0.023). For caregivers at risk for depression, the intervention had a significant effect on caregivers' confidence in having sufficient information to manage their health (p = 0.040). No effects were found for patients' depressive symptoms, unmet needs, self-empowerment, and other health literacy domains. Conclusions: While caregiver burden was not reduced, the outcall program was effective in reducing unmet needs in caregivers. Provision of cancer information and support via a telephone service may represent a feasible approach to reducing unmet needs among cancer caregiver populations. Trial registration:ACTRN12613000731796 ; prospectively registered on 02/07/2013.

Original languageEnglish
Article number59
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2018


  • Cancer
  • Caregiver burden
  • Caregivers
  • Depression
  • Health literacy
  • Helpline
  • RCT
  • Support
  • Telephone intervention
  • Unmet needs

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