Patients Blame Docs for Bad News; Retirement Worries; More

Marcy Tolkoff, JD


May 20, 2015

In This Article

Patients Hearing Bad News May Blame the Messenger

Sometimes, you have to give patients grim information about treatment options. But did you know that the news you share can affect the way you're perceived by your patients? A study published in JAMA Oncology revealed that patients who received a more optimistic message from their physicians saw them as more compassionate, and even more trustworthy.[1]

For the study, researchers showed 100 patients with advanced cancer two 4-minute videos, each depicting a physician discussing treatment; the first had a more optimistic message about the possibility of future treatment, and the second a less optimistic message conveying that there were no further treatment options. In each video, the doctor made five empathic statements and displayed identical posture.

After viewing each video, the patients completed assessments, with 57% rating the doctor who delivered the more optimistic message to be more compassionate. Of note, the degree of compassion was also associated with greater overall trust in the medical profession, regardless of the message conveyed.

Researchers theorized that physicians may be reluctant to give bad news, owing to fear of being perceived as less compassionate. They concluded, "Further research and educational techniques in structuring less optimistic message content would help support professionals in delivering bad news, as well as decreasing the burden of feeling less compassionate in these instances. At the same time, improved delivery of treatment and prognostic information would enable patients to make a more informed decision."


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