Breaking Bad News: Attitudes of Physicians and Patients in Primary Care Academic Article uri icon


  • Objective To understand and evaluate the skills primary care physicians need to convey bad news, from both the patients’ as well as the physicians’ points of view. These data were used to formulate clinical guidelines about conveying bad news. Methods Seventeen physicians and 52 patients at two large primary care clinics completed a semi-structured questionnaire. Results Of the physicians, 87.5% have conveyed bad news to a patient, but only 41.2% had received any formal training. About 50% of the patients had been told of an ominous health related problem. We found a high correlation between the severity of the news received and how emotionally difficult the patients perceived the meeting to be, and between the severity of the news conveyed and the importance the patients attributed to meeting with the physician. Conclusion Many physicians lack specific training in how to convey bad news. Given how emotionally difficult receiving bad news is for patients and the importance they attach to their meeting with the physician, formal training to aid physicians in this aspect of their work is essential.

publication date

  • September 1, 2011