Peer Reviewed
Psychological medicine

The challenge of giving bad news

Elizabeth Lobb
Telling a patient bad news, such as a life-limiting diagnosis, can be challenging for clinicians. The chances of it going smoothly can be increased by preparing yourself and the setting and by rehearsing. Patients value direct, nontechnical explanations delivered with empathy and compassion, and appreciate time to talk, express their feelings and ask questions.
Key Points

    Bad news can be defined as any information that adversely alters an individual’s expectations for the future. Telling a patient bad news, such as a diagnosis of cancer or other potentially life-limiting condition, can be challenging for healthcare professionals. It can arouse strong emotions, particularly for those who have a long-term relationship with the patient. Clinicians may feel sadness or even guilt if the cause of symptoms was not diagnosed earlier. These are normal responses, and self-acknowledgement may avoid projecting feelings or biases onto the patient or caregiver.

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