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November 2015

Rethinking Patient-Physician Communication of Biopsy Results—The Waiting Game

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
  • 2Veterans Affairs Health Services Research & Development Center for Clinical Management Research, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 3Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
  • 4Dow Division of Health Services Research, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor
JAMA Oncol. 2015;1(8):1025-1026. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2015.2334

Few would disagree that patient-centered care involves asking open-ended questions, acknowledging patient emotions, and engaging in mutual dialogue about decision-making and next steps. When this communication occurs, it is typically during an in-person clinic consultation. Traditional medical education emphasizes this approach to clinical encounters because it is presumed to be more empathetic, especially when disclosing bad news.

Delivering bad news happens every day in oncology practice. Numerous studies demonstrate that patients cope with a range of emotions when receiving bad news.1 For patients, waiting for in-person communication of biopsy results may lead to apprehension of physicians. Compounding the issue, the ability to acutely process bad news in the office worsens under emotional duress and ensuing medical jargon. If practitioners remain cognizant of the limitations of communicating biopsy results at in-person consultations, their efforts may better support delivery of patient-centered care.

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