Communicating a terminal prognosis in a palliative care setting: Deficiencies in current communication training protocols

Elaine M. Wittenberg-Lyles, Joy Goldsmith, Sandra Sanchez-Reilly, Sandra L. Ragan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The goal of this study was to understand the use and effectiveness of current communication protocols in terminal prognosis disclosures. Data were gathered from an interdisciplinary palliative care consultation service team at a Veterans Hospital in Texas, USA. Medical communication guidelines, a consistent component in United States palliative care education, propose models for delivery of bad news. However, there is little empirical evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of these guidelines in disclosures of a terminal prognosis. Based on ethnographic observations of terminal prognosis meetings with dying patients, palliative care team meetings, and semi-structured interviews with palliative care team practitioners, this study notes the contradictory conceptualizations of current bad news communication guidelines and highlights that communicating a terminal prognosis also includes (1) adaptive communication based on the patient's acceptability, (2) team based/family communication as opposed to physician-patient dyadic communication, and (3) diffusion of topic through repetition and definition as opposed to singularity of topic. We conclude that environmentally based revision to communication protocol and practice in medical school training is imperative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2356-2365
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Communication
  • End-of-life
  • Medical education
  • Palliative care
  • Terminal prognosis
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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