Poll: Half of physicians, nurses delay giving patients bad news

A recent Medscape poll found half of physicians and more than two out of five nurses and advance practice nurses have delayed giving patients bad news.

The poll question was one of four Medscape presented to readers in September after Art Caplan, PhD, a New York University medical ethicist, wrote a commentary about the potentially harmful effects of physicians delaying bad news. The poll gathered responses from nearly 500 healthcare professionals.

Sixty-six percent of physicians and 70 percent of nurses said the patient's reaction had the greatest influence on how they reacted when delivering bad news.

Anxiety was the most frequently reported emotion among physicians and nurses. Fifty-five percent of physicians and 59 percent of nurses said they put off giving bad news because they were anxious about the reaction from patients and caregivers. Additionally, more than one-third of all physicians delayed due to feelings of failure.  

Lack of training and experience in delivering bad news, access to a private space, lack of time and communication challenges between healthcare professionals also contributed to how physicians and nurses gave bad news. 

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