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JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Difficult conversations: from diagnosis to death

Joel D Marcus, Frank E Mott
Ochsner Journal 2014, 14 (4): 712-7
25598738

BACKGROUND: Communication is the cornerstone of good multidisciplinary medical care, and the impact of conversations about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis is indisputable. Healthcare providers must be able to have difficult conversations that accurately describe diagnostic procedures, treatment goals, and the benefits and/or risks involved.

METHODS: This paper reviews the literature about the importance of communication in delivering bad news, the status of communication training, communication strategies, and psychosocial interventions.

RESULTS: Although many published guidelines address difficult communication, communication training is lacking. Consequently, many clinicians may have difficulties with, or in the worst-case scenario, avoid delivering bad news and discussing end-of-life treatment. Clinicians also struggle with how to have the last conversation with a patient and how to support patient autonomy when they disagree with a patient's choices.

CONCLUSION: There is a clinical imperative to educate physicians and other healthcare workers on how to effectively deliver information about a patient's health status, diagnostic avenues to be explored, and decisions to be made at critical health junctions. Knowing how to implement the most rudimentary techniques of motivational interviewing, solution-focused brief therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy can help physicians facilitate conversations of the most difficult type to generate positive change in patients and families and to help them make decisions that minimize end-of-life distress.

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