Breaking bad news in the emergency department: a comparative analysis among residents, patients and family members' perceptions

Eur J Emerg Med. 2018 Feb;25(1):71-76. doi: 10.1097/MEJ.0000000000000404.


Objective: Our main objective was to assess patient and family members' perception of bad news communication in the emergency department (ED) and compare these with physicians' perceptions.

Methods: This is a cross-sectional study carried out at the ED of a tertiary teaching hospital. To compare physicians' and receivers' (patient and/or family member) perceptions, we created a survey based on the six attributes derived from the SPIKES protocol. The surveys were applied immediately after communication of bad news occurred in the ED. We analyzed agreement among participants using κ-statistics and the χ-test to compare proportions.

Results: A total of 73 bad news communication encounters were analyzed. The survey respondents were 73 physicians, 69 family members, and four patients. In general, there is a low level of agreement between physicians' and receivers' perceptions of how breaking bad news transpired. The satisfaction level of receivers, in terms of breaking bad news by doctors, presented a mean of 3.7±0.6 points. In contrast, the physicians' perception of the communication was worse (2.9±0.6 points), with P value less than 0.001.

Conclusion: Doctors and receivers disagree in relation to what transpired throughout bad news communications. Discrepancies were more evident in issues involving emotion, invitation, and privacy. An important agreement between perceptions was found in technical and knowledge-related aspects of the communication.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Physician's Role / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Truth Disclosure*