Doctors and Bad News

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You’ve done the right thing and used our cremations services to make funeral arrangements when you die. However, you’re not planning on dying anytime soon. Most people are like you. They don’t go into a doctor’s office planning to walk out with bad news about their health and, potentially, their lives.

However, the reality is that this happens every day. Because delivering bad news to patients is part of a doctor’s job, and it happens routinely enough that they should have some proficiency at it. But not every doctor is good as this part of their job.

There are reasons for this that are more human than they are professional. However, because not giving bad news well can mean a death sentence for patients who might otherwise have a chance at treatment or reversal of the condition, doctors should be able to be professional and human, with the human aspect clouding their professional judgement and actions.

Some doctors don’t give bad news well because they have a long and good relationship with their patient and they simply can’t cast themselves as the bearer of bad news. Even if the doctor knows that there may be successful treatment options for the bad news diagnosis, they may simply choose to downplay the diagnosis or mischaracterize it as not so serious.

This goes counter to the Hippocratic oath that all doctors take. This oath is summarized in the phrase, “do no harm.” However, doctors who don’t lay the crushing weight of truth about a bad news diagnosis can often think that being completely honest with their patient will do more harm to them than if they sidestep or minimize the diagnosis.

That’s a human reaction and human thinking. But it has no place in medicine, where life and death may hang in the balance of the information given or not given.

Some doctors don’t do a good job of telling a patient bad news about their medical diagnosis because the doctor blames the diagnosis on their care of the patient.

As hard as this may be to believe, a doctor may actually feel guilty and responsible when bad news comes back from a medical test or procedure. They can believe that they should have been able to know about the risk in advance and stave it off, or they can question whether they didn’t provide the best care they could have for the patient.

This human response is also understandable, but it puts the doctor’s feelings and responses ahead of the patient’s well-being. At this point, the doctor should be focused on getting, if it’s available, the best treatment options for their patient to improve or recover. Wasting time in self-incrimination shortens the window of opportunity for the patient to be able to make choices that could potentially save their lives.

A final reason why some doctors don’t do well delivering bad news to their patients is because they are in denial themselves.

These doctors take interpret the Hippocratic Oath as “do not die,” instead of “do no harm.” However, when a patient has a terminal illness that they will not survive, they should be given the time to get their lives in order, to spend time with their families, and make however many last days they have count.

Keeping the bad news from these patients unfairly deprives them of this opportunity.

For information about the cremations services we offer, contact our compassionate and experienced team at Hopler & Eschbach Funeral Home for help. You can visit our funeral home at 483 Chenango St., Binghamton, NY 13901, or you can call us today at (607) 722-4023.