THE DIFFICULT TASK OF BREAKING BAD NEWS
Ask people in a traditional office job what the worst part of their day is and you’ll get myriad answers: We have too many meetings, our computers never work, we can’t get 50 hours of work done in 40 hours ... the list goes on.
Now ask the same question to people in healthcare and you’ll get a very different response. Sure, the specifics of their answer may differ, but they likely all lead to the same source: Someone has died or had their life permanently altered in a negative way. In healthcare, we’re steeped in mortality every single day, and for us and our patients, things are just simply a little more real. For many of us, terrible moments like the instances above are only the beginning, because we still must break the news to the patient or their loved ones. And that might really be the worst part of our job.
Nothing we could say in this blog is ever going to make that process easy, but there are things you can do to ease some of the burden from yourself and your patients. Try these tips.
* Know your role. Some pieces of information simply aren’t yours to give. If that's the case, don’t volunteer to deliver this information even if you feel a connection to the patient. Doing so could land you in trouble and complicate matters further.
* Be straight to the point. “Give it to me straight, Doc.” Remember that quote? It still applies. Good or bad, patients want the fair truth and they want to know as quickly as possible.
* Give them a moment. Patients receiving bad news have different reactions, but whether they cry, become angry or sit in shock, it’s important to give them a moment to process what you just told them. Continuing without allowing this moment increases the chances information will go unheard.
* Be ready for questions. Patients will have concerns, and if the news is serious, they won’t want to wait while you check for more information.
* Keep hope alive. No matter the diagnosis, a patient deserves the right to confront it in their own way, including with hope. Even the bleakest futures will be more rewarding if the patient is filled with hope, and as a medical professional, you can provide that to them, as well as compassionate care. Make hope a part of any conversation you have, and the result will reward you, your patient and their family.