Communication Best Practices for Difficult Diagnoses

Difficult diagnoses pose a serious problem for patients because of the stress attached to them. Depending on the diagnosis, it could result in significant lifestyle changes, painful or uncomfortable treatments, and a rupture of day-to-day activities. Mortality is also something that many patients might be confronted with in some cases.

Physicians should try to approach these difficult diagnoses with extra care, respect, and by offering scientific information to alleviate the patients’ worries. The patients need to make informed decisions that will best benefit them. And that’s where you come in. Be empathetic, understand their state of mind, don’t rush them, and listen to their worries without interrupting them.

Primary Medical Care Center lies at the forefront of clinics who implement patient-centric communication regarding difficult or terminal diagnoses. Below, we’ll discuss the merit of such an approach.

Establish a Supportive Patient-Provider Relationship

When a patient is confronted with a difficult diagnosis, communication becomes instrumental in helping them cope with it and make a good decision. The physician needs to display empathy, patience, and understanding when talking about the diagnosis and recommending a treatment plan.

Make the patient feel supported and understood by allowing them to express their emotions and talking about their concerns. Some patients might need more time to fully take the diagnosis, so allow them that reprisal. Ideally, upon delivering such a diagnosis, you should wait until the patient begins asking question to let them come to terms with the diagnosis.

Promote Understanding of the Difficult Diagnosis

The most important thing about delivering a difficult diagnosis is ensuring that the patient understands what it implies, their choices, symptoms, and treatment options. Accurate information is indispensable at this point because, as much empathy as you might showcase, it won’t alleviate much of their worries. Sharing scientific evidence about their diagnosis that puts their mind at ease will take care of the rest, though.

Make sure you use simple words and present the information in an understandable format. Try not to use jargon and use visual aids to help your patient understand what they’re dealing with. In the case of cancer, for instance, you could explain its biology, how it spreads, and what treatments options there are. With this information in hand, the patient will become autonomous and gain control over their life, which is the essence of a value-based care model.

Be Realistic and Acknowledge the Necessary Limitations

As advanced as medical science is, we still don’t know anything, and some medical conditions are still uncurable. Don’t lie to your patient out of a desire to protect their feelings or make them feel better. Be honest but empathetic, and acknowledge that science doesn’t know everything. Some patients might also be skeptical of empirical evidence, in which case you should not outright deny their beliefs.

Every physician will choose the best approach on tackling these difficult subjects but the end-goal is to strengthen the patient-doctor relationship. The patient’s emotional needs are of prime importance at this point, and offering a realistic outlook of the diagnostic and treatment options is an excellent way of gaining their trust.

Difficult diagnoses also have immense psychological after-effects on patients, and as a physician, it’s your responsibility to talk about these with the patient. Explain that psychological symptoms are normal and that there are ways to cope with them: support groups, mental health services, and more.

Primary Medical Care Center takes great pride in strengthening our relationship with our patients. The value-base care system allows us to have these difficult conversations in a sheltered environment and assure our patients that everything will be alright.

You can call us at (305) 751-1500 or use our contact form to learn more!