Communicating a terminal prognosis in a palliative care setting: Deficiencies in current communication training protocols


The goal of this study was to understand the use and effectiveness of current communication protocols in terminal prognosis disclosures. Data were gathered from an interdisciplinary palliative care consultation service team at a Veterans Hospital in Texas, USA. Medical communication guidelines, a consistent component in United States palliative care education, propose models for delivery of bad news. However, there is little empirical evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of these guidelines in disclosures of a terminal prognosis. Based on ethnographic observations of terminal prognosis meetings with dying patients, palliative care team meetings, and semi-structured interviews with palliative care team practitioners, this study notes the contradictory conceptualizations of current bad news communication guidelines and highlights that communicating a terminal prognosis also includes (1) adaptive communication based on the patient's acceptability, (2) team based/family communication as opposed to physician-patient dyadic communication, and (3) diffusion of topic through repetition and definition as opposed to singularity of topic. We conclude that environmentally based revision to communication protocol and practice in medical school training is imperative. © 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Social Science and Medicine