Communicating sad, bad, and difficult news in medicine

Lancet. 2004 Jan 24;363(9405):312-9. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)15392-5.


In every medical specialty bad, sad, and difficult information must be given to patients and their families. An insensitive approach increases the distress of recipients of bad news, may exert a lasting impact on their ability to adapt and adjust, and can lead to anger and an increased risk of litigation. Many doctors also find these interactions stressful, and in the absence of much effective training they may adopt inappropriate ways of delivering bad news and coping with the emotional fall-out. Recognition of these difficulties has led to many initiatives, ranging from increased communication skills training to the development of guidelines and protocols. We review some of the research on the impact that giving sad, bad, and difficult news has on doctors and patients, and assess whether interventions are helping. We focus mainly on difficulties encountered involving parents in an obstetric or paediatric setting, people in acute trauma situations such as accident and emergency departments, and patients with cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude to Health
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / education
  • Medical Oncology / methods
  • Obstetrics / education
  • Obstetrics / methods
  • Pediatrics / education
  • Pediatrics / methods
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Professional-Family Relations
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United Kingdom
  • United States