Delivering Bad News to our patients

by Shweta Ramkumar


No one likes receiving it

No one wants to be the bearer of it

Regardless, delivering bad news to patients is an inevitable part of our jobs as healthcare professionals. Whether its lack of available resources to conduct medical tests, a diagnosis of a condition or prognosis of a long term medical condition, delivering bad news is always challenging, difficult and distressing for both patients and healthcare providers.

Recently I spoke to a patient who underwent a miscarriage and wanted to book a follow up ultrasound appointment. During our conversation, I tried to be tactful while trying my best not to trigger her painful memories and reinforcing the fact that I need to ask questions to collect information that will assist sonographers. I felt uncomfortable but had to stay professional. Sonographers have to deliver this devastating news regularly and I cannot imagine how heartbreaking 💔it would be.

Below are some strategies healthcare professionals can incorporate to deliver unfortunate news to their patients in an effective, sensitive and empathetic manner :

➡️Avoid starting with “I have some bad news”, “unfortunately” or “I’m sorry to say”; instead highlight your observations or fact-based information and conclude it with “I’m sorry”

➡️Be empathetic but not sympathetic. Respect patients’ space and time to process the news but reassure them that there is help and support available, without saying things like “I know how hard this must be for you”

➡️Adhere to patients’ expectations of privacy and confidentiality

➡️In situations related to prognosis, focus on communicating about treatments in ways that would help improve patients’ quality of life and make them feel more comfortable, especially if the condition is terminal

➡️Be aware of patients’ triggers around the bad news and avoid reinforcing them through questions by focusing on the symptoms individually rather than the condition overall. Eg if a patient has depression, you could ask them about any improvement in their eating or sleeping patterns rather than vaguely asking them how they’re feeling every time

Demonstrating empathy and sensitivity towards patients takes self-awareness, conscientiousness and constant practice, almost like building a muscle 💪. To find out what tools and strategies you could use as a healthcare professional to develop this skillset, schedule a complimentary 30 minute discovery call with me to see how I can best support you

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Hi, I'm Shweta

I coach non-native English speaking healthcare professionals how to advance in their career and build better relationships with their patients and colleagues by expressing themselves more articulately and confidently in the English language.

I work closely with healthcare professionals who work with patients regularly. I help them improve their communication skills when interacting with patients and colleagues, teach them how to show up authentically, assertively and articulately in their field of work in order for them to ultimately gain credibility, validation and respect.

If you work in a clinical role in the healthcare industry and would like to learn more about how to better connect and communicate openly with your clients / patients, book a complimentary 30 minute discovery call with me to see how I can best support you.

Shweta Ramkumar - English Language Confidence Coach