Doctors are often times the bearer of bad news. It can become very difficult for doctors to address the situation a patient is not ready to hear. However, a new simulation program is helping doctors prepare for those difficult conversations.

How do you begin the conversation? How long should you wait for your patient to absorb the news? What words will make them feel more comfortable and how will they react? These are all scenarios that can be rehearsed, discussed, and analyzed with a program in a new simulation lab at Alive Hospice in Nashville.

The Bearer of Bad News

The simulation lab has been designed to resemble a hospital bed with a doctor’s office on the opposite side. There is a pane of glass that divides the room so other can listen in on the conversation through headphones.

Doctors and healthcare providers are trained to deliver news about terminal diagnoses. One or more employees are there to act the role of the patient or family member while the doctor delivers the bad news. Each scenario is different; having to answer off-topic questions; dealing with angry family members; denial; and even having second opinions from other physicians.

Once the roleplay is finished, the doctor or healthcare provider is partnered up with a facilitator to discuss and critique the end results which are played back on a television screen. Constructive criticism is where doctors understand what went wrong and how they can alter their verbal and non-verbal communication to help ease all the stress and sadness that comes with these grim conversations.

Similarly to medical errors and patient safety, communication plays a major role in medical training. It is without a doubt that doctors have been inadequate trained to communicate terminal diagnoses and difficult conversations. Nonetheless, the medical world is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of communication not only with medical staff to improve performance and patient safety, but also with patients.

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