Background Bad news in the context of health care has been broadly defined as significant information that negatively alters people's perceptions of the present or future. Effectively delivering bad news (DBN) in the setting of the emergency department requires excellent communication skills. Evidence shows that bad news is frequently given inadequately. Studies show that trainees need to devote more time to developing this skill through formalized training. This program's objectives were to utilize trained standardized patients in a simulation setting to assist pediatric emergency medicine (PEM) fellows in the development of effective, sensitive, and compassionate communication with patients and family members when conveying bad news, and to recognize and respond to the patient/parent's reaction to such news. Methods PEM fellows participated in a novel curriculum utilizing simulated patients (SPs) acting as the patient's parent and immersive techniques in a realistic and supportive environment. A baseline survey was conducted to ascertain participant demographics and previous experience with simulation and DBN. Experienced, multi-disciplinary faculty participated in a training workshop with the SPs one week prior to course delivery. Three scenarios were developed for bad news delivery. Instructors watched via remote video feed while the fellows individually interacted with the SPs and then participated in a confidential debriefing. Fellows later joined for group debriefing. Fellow characteristics, experience, and self-perceived comfort pre/post-course were collected. Results Baseline data demonstrated that 78% of fellows reported DBN two or more times per month. Ninety-three percent of fellows in this study were present during the delivery of news about the death of a child to a parent or family member in the six-month period preceding this course. Fellows' self-reported comfort level in DBN to a patient/family and dealing with patient and parent emotions improved significantly (p=0.034 and p=0.046, respectively). Conclusions Pediatric emergency medicine fellows frequently deliver bad news. A course using SPs was well received by trainees and resulted in improvement in self-assessed skills and comfort. This curriculum provides the opportunity for fellows to receive patient/parent feedback of their communication skills and observations from skilled instructors. This methodology should be considered when creating training curricula for bad news delivery skills.
Keywords: breaking bad news; delivering critical news; education; pediatric emergency medicine; simulation; standardized patients.