Opinion: Doctors Who Can’t Communicate Bad News are Technicians, Not True Physicians

Doctor Jessica Zitter, who practices pulmonary/critical care medicine and palliative care medicine, says that a lack of communication skills she’s observed from referring physicians is letting patients and their families down.

“Specialists with cutting-edge technical skills and the technology to support them are indeed a type of ‘A’ team. But they often lack a different crucial skill, one I believe all doctors should hone: the ability to communicate bad news. Without that they are an “A” team of technicians, not physicians in the truest sense,” says Doctor Zitter.

Zitter is clear to point out that any medical specialist is trying his or her best for the sake of the patient, however a lack of training in the key area of communication is standing in their way of becoming fully-successful practitioners. She uses one example of a patient who was not clearly given the realities of his illness and was unable to prepare for the future because of it.

“There was no outright incompetence, no obvious neglect or laziness, no ill intention — only doctors, the best of the best, extremely smart and eager to help, providing the world-class, organ-focused care they had been taught to provide,” says Zitter. “But they were unable to say the words that this suffering man needed to hear.”

Palliative care specialists are trained to offer pain management, psychosocial support, and in communication skills.

“A true physician, to my mind, tends to the whole patient, not just her organs, and cares for the human behind the disease,” says  Zitter. Click here to read the fully story.

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