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J Gen Intern Med. 2002 Dec;17(12):914-22.

The good news about giving bad news to patients.

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  • 1Received from Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del. 19899, USA.



There are few data available on how physicians inform patients about bad news. We surveyed internists about how they convey this information.


We surveyed internists about their activities in giving bad news to patients. One set of questions was about activities for the emotional support of the patient (11 items), and the other was about activities for creating a supportive environment for delivering bad news (9 items). The impact of demographic factors on the performance of emotionally supportive items, environmentally supportive items, and on the number of minutes reportedly spent delivering news was analyzed by analysis of variance and multiple regression analysis.


More than half of the internists reported that they always or frequently performed 10 of the 11 emotionally supportive items and 6 of the 9 environmentally supportive items while giving bad news to patients. The average time reportedly spent in giving bad news was 27 minutes. Although training in giving bad news had a significant impact on the number of emotionally supportive items reported (P <.05), only 25% of respondents had any previous training in this area. Being older, a woman, unmarried, and having a history of major illness were also associated with reporting a greater number of emotionally supportive activities.


Internists report that they inform patients of bad news appropriately. Some deficiencies exist, specifically in discussing prognosis and referral of patients to support groups. Physician educational efforts should include discussion of prognosis with patients as well as the availability of support groups.

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