Recipients' perspective on breaking bad news: how you put it really makes a difference

Patient Educ Couns. 2005 Sep;58(3):244-51. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2005.05.005.


Objective: The goal of this study was to show that physician communication style of breaking bad news affects how the physician is perceived, how satisfied recipients of bad news are with the consultation, and how they feel after the consultation.

Method: Female participants (students, N=159) were asked to put themselves in the shoes of a patient receiving the bad news of a breast cancer diagnosis. Participants were randomly assigned to watch one of three prototypical physician communication styles of breaking bad news on videotape: patient-, disease-, or emotion-centered communication.

Results: Results showed that these three prototypical communication styles were perceived very differently and they determined how satisfied participants were with the consultation and how they felt after the consultation. Participants exposed to the patient-centered communication perceived the physician as most emotional, least dominant, most appropriate when it comes to conveying information, most available and most expressive of hope. Also, they reported to be most satisfied with the visit and they showed the least increase in negative emotions.

Conclusion: A patient-centered communication style has the most positive outcome for recipients of bad news on a cognitive, evaluative, and emotional level.

Practice implications: Results of this study provide guidelines to physicians on how to convey bad news.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Switzerland
  • Truth Disclosure*