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Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2009;17(5):315-21. doi: 10.3109/10673220903271780.

Delivering difficult news in psychiatric settings.

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  • 1School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.


Communication research and investigations into the delivery of bad news are uncommon in psychiatry versus other medical specialties. The question of delivering "bad" diagnostic news in psychiatry has been focused on dementia rather than actual psychiatric disorders and their sequelae. Common problems are that psychiatrists avoid dealing with patients' emotional reactions to bad news and that they avoid providing a clear diagnosis for fear that patients or carers will be distressed. This article aims to provide an overview of key elements of the "breaking bad news" literature, teasing out factors that are relevant to psychiatric practice. Topics explored include: definitions; clinical considerations for delivering difficult news within medical and psychiatric settings; protocols and guidelines; evidence about patient information needs and communication preferences; research into actual delivery of such news; and areas for future education and research.

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