Communicating medical bad news: parents' experiences and preferences

J Pediatr. 1992 Oct;121(4):539-46. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(05)81141-2.


Parents (N = 189) of children enrolled in 15 developmental day care centers completed questionnaires that examined the experience of being told bad news and elicited preferences for physician behavior in a hypothetical situation (communicating the diagnosis of Down syndrome). Parents, in comparison with their experiences, preferred (p < 0.001) more communication of information and feelings by their physician. Their strongest preferences were for physicians to show caring (97%), to allow parents to talk (95%), and to allow parents to show their own feelings (93%). They wanted physicians to share information (90%) and to be highly confident (89%). Most parents (87%) desired parent-to-parent referral, but only a few (19%) were referred. We conclude that there is a difference between what parents experience and what they desire in physicians who communicate bad news. Physicians control the interaction and are highly confident, but parents especially value physicians who show caring and allow parents to talk and share their feelings.

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Down Syndrome
  • Empathy
  • Humans
  • Parents*
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Truth Disclosure*