The author of this article is Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, a family physician who practices in New Jersey. Dr. Girgis is also a regular blogger and columnist for Physician’s Weekly, among other publications.
One of the hardest tasks a clinician must do is giving patients bad news. Here are some strategies that may help when delivering such news to patients:
- Be empathetic: Patients need our empathy in all circumstances, not just when they are facing bad outcomes.
- Be honest: Patients deserve the full and complete truth, no matter how bad it is. Those facing death should know their status so that they can make preparations.
- Be simple: Ensure that patients understand what you have explained or disclosed. Provide patients websites that offer more information after they go home.
- Let them ask questions: Make sure patients are fully apprised of their medical situation. If they don’t ask questions, be the lead and ask them if they have any questions.
- Listen: By listening, physicians can understand what patients are most concerned about and then address these issues.
- Don’t trivialize: Our words may be easy to say because we’re not the ones suffering. You’re a doctor, not a source for inspirational quotes.
- Be supportive: Patients need to know you are there for them. You’re there to guide them and help make decisions. Although you may not like or agree with their decisions, remember it is theirs to make.
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