Telemedicine, Good News for Sharing Bad News?

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A recent study out of University of Michigan claims that delivering a cancer diagnosis or “bad news” to patients over the phone may be a better option than in the traditional in-person office visit setting. To quote the researchers, when presented with an in-person setting patients are:

“...not only trying to absorb devastating news, but also engage in challenging conversation…(their) ability to acutely process bad news in the office worsens under emotional duress and ensuing medical jargon.”
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The study shows that sharing the news over the telephone allows the medical provider to more effectively communicate the information clearly, and reduce some of the stress, for patients associated with being in a medical office setting. Patients informed via phone are able to digest the news on their own terms and at their own pace, and then come to the medical provider with questions and concerns after they have had the chance to think things over and discuss with their families and loved ones.

Telemedicine holds no place in replacing traditional oncology care, but can act as a supplement to a variety of medical specialties. Telemedicine as an enhancement has been shown to be either equivalent to or an improvement in nearly every medical specialty.

That being said, the researchers made sure to include the disclaimer that every patient is different and that there are certainly circumstances where delivering bad news – like a positive cancer biopsy result – is more appropriate for an in-person setting. There is no denying that the interaction between a patient and physician in delivering critical news like this plays an important role in the patient-physician relationship, but quality of care and effective communication should remain a primary concern of medical providers.