From the December 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
By Dr. Anthony J. Orsini
Everyone remembers the moment. The moment they heard a devastating diagnosis about themselves or a loved one, and their whole world changed.
Almost everyone is faced with bad medical news eventually, but the way a physician delivers this news can help determine how people face the challenge in front of them. However, less than 10 percent of physicians receive any formal training in how to effectively and sensitively communicate bad news. Often, when faced with a frightened patient and their loved ones, clinicians hide behind confusing medical jargon or shy away from discussing the gravity of the situation, leaving everyone unprepared for the eventual outcome. Even worse, many physicians deliver the news abruptly, leaving pain and shock in their wake.
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These experiences stay with people forever. That’s why it’s so important to keep the gravity of the situation in mind. Regardless of how many times a physician has delivered bad news, they need to remember it’s going to be the first time the patient has heard it. Physicians delivering difficult diagnoses are meeting people at the worst moments of their lives. What we say and how we say it can make the experience even more devastating. But if it’s done well, that is the moment when healing can begin.
I have personally seen physicians help families and patients by communicating in the most sensitive and caring manner. I have also seen it done badly time and time again, devastating so many people. Beyond the personal element, there’s also a potential financial impact — poor communication is cited as a cause in 40% of lawsuits.
Positive physician communication has physical, as well as emotional benefits for patients. Studies published in medical journals including Lancet and the Journal of the American Medical Association, have demonstrated when patients feel that their doctor has communicated with them compassionately, they are more likely to follow their treatment plan.
The following are 10 rules for Breaking Bad News that I’ve picked up over the years:
Choose a private setting. Sit down and show appropriate (serious and sympathetic) body language.
Give the patient and/or loved ones your undivided attention. Shut off all pagers and phones.
Get on the same page by reviewing the situation first. Ask them what they know about what is going on.
Break the news gradually. Do not “blindside” the patient by being too abrupt.
Do not hide behind medical jargon. Speak in terms the patient and loved ones can understand.