Divulging Information to Patients With Poor Prognoses

Divulging Information to Patients With Poor Prognoses

We have seen several instances where our colleagues’ families have been given very little prognostic information by their physicians in situations where important decisions involving benefits versus harms, quality of life and other end of life decisions must be made. In both cases when a clinician in the family presented the evidence and prognostic information, decisions were altered.

We were happy to see a review of this topic by Mack and Smith in a recent issue of the BMJ.[1] In a nutshell the authors point out that—

  • Evidence consistently shows that healthcare professionals are hesitant to divulge prognostic information due to several underlying misconceptions. Examples of misconceptions—
    • Prognostic information will make patients depressed
    • It will take away hope
    • We can’t be sure of the patient’s prognosis anyway
    • Discussions about prognosis are uncomfortable
  • Many patients are denied discussion about code status, advance medical directives, or even hospice until there are no more treatments to give  and little time left for the patient
  • Many patients lose important  time with their families and and spend more time in the hospital and in intensive care units than would be if prognostic information had been provided and different decisions had been made.

Patients and families want prognostic information which is required to make decisions that are right for them. This together with the lack of evidence that discussing prognosis causes depression, shortens life, or takes away hope and the huge problem of unnecessary interventions at the end of life creates a strong argument for honest communication about poor prognoses.


1. Mack JW, Smith TJ. Reasons why physicians do not have discussions about poor prognosis, why it matters, and what can be improved. J Clin Oncol. 2012 Aug 1;30(22):2715-7. Epub 2012 Jul 2. PubMed PMID: 22753911.


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