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How Do You Communicate a Disappointing Outcome?

Neil S Prose MD, Professor of Pediatrics and Dermatology, Duke University Medical Center, and Michael Haglund, MD, PhD, Professor of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center

Have trouble viewing this video? Read the transcript.

Learning Objectives: At the end of this activity, you will be able to:
  • Identify at least three things providers shouldn’t do when communicating a disappointing outcome.
  • Identify at least three things providers should do when communicating a disappointing outcome.

Description: Even though providers do their best to avoid negative outcomes, sometimes things don’t go as planned. How should providers communicate with patients and families when the outcome is not what they hoped for?

In this video, Dr. Michael Haglund, a Professor of Surgery at Duke University Medical Center, demonstrates how providers should and shouldn’t communicate a disappointing outcome, based on the work of Dr. Neil Prose. Watch two versions of the same scene, in which an actor playing the wife of a patient who had surgery to remove a brain tumor experiences the impact of a provider’s verbal and nonverbal communication.

This video was produced by Firestream Media with a grant from the Duke Graduate Medical Education Innovation Fund. For more on how the creators used this video as part of a program on physician-patient communication, read this article in the Journal of Surgical Education.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did you notice about what the provider did wrong in the first scene? What would you have done differently?
  2. At the end of the first scene, the provider suggests that the family member is at fault for misunderstanding information about her husband’s treatment. Where do you think the responsibility for the patient’s understanding lies, and why is it important?
  3. What emotions do you think the family member and provider were feeling during this scene? How did those emotions affect their ability to communicate?
  4. What did you like about how the provider handled the conversation in the second scene?
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