Students and new physicians often struggle with breaking bad news to patients; Oliver Oyakhire shares helpful tips.
Breaking bad news to patients is one of the most challenging aspects of pursuing a career in the medical field. Physicians must practice using empathy and clarity in combination with a variety of other communication skills for the best interest of the patient. Oliver Oyakhire, explains that poor delivery of bad news can result in a loss of trust, respect, and connection with the physician.
Some argue that breaking bad news is an innate skill; others say that these communication skills can be practiced and learned over time. Students and newly practicing medical professionals often seek guidance when facing such difficult situations. Oliver Oyakhire highlights Robert Buckman’s Six-Step Protocol for Breaking Bad News.
First, it’s essential to seek out a private, comfortable atmosphere. Both the physician and the patient should be seated, and the patient should have the option to have an additional guest present. Oliver Oyakhire explains that having a friend or loved one in the room may provide comfort and support.
Next, the physician should find out how much the patient already knows about their condition. Oliver Oyakhire notes that this is helpful when trying to figure out how much the patient understands what they have been told. This step can also provide insight as to how the patient is feeling.
To build trust and open the door for communication, Oliver Oyakhire shares that physicians should then ask the patient how much they want to know. Some people want to know as much as possible; others want to hear the big picture. There is no right or wrong answer. Additional questions can always be asked in the next meeting.
All relevant information about the patient and their diagnosis should be prepared and easily accessible. It is common to cover one or two topics at this meeting. However, an agenda can also include full diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and support options. Oliver Oyakhire notes that is proper to speak slowly and in small segments. Provide an opportunity for the patient to ask questions and absorb information at their own pace.
Finally, a physician should recognize and respond to a patient’s feelings. Oliver Oyakhire believes this is the ideal time for a physician to show that they are caring and understanding. It is also common to ask the patient how they are feeling. Use any concerns or issues to build a plan through the patient’s healthcare. A follow-up appointment should be scheduled, and contact information should be provided.
Oliver Oyakhire notes that there is no better teacher than that of experience. With these six general steps, new professionals can work diligently to provide the best care for their patients.