Saturday, June 15, 2019
Health

Why so many doctors won’t break bad news

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After nearly 40 years as an internist, Dr. Ron Naito knew what the sky-high results of his blood test meant. And it wasn’t good.

But when he turned to his doctors last summer to confirm the dire diagnosis — stage 4 pancreatic cancer — he learned the news in a way no patient should.

The first physician, a specialist Naito had known for 10 years, refused to acknowledge the results of the “off-the-scale” blood test that showed unmistakable signs of advanced cancer. “He simply didn’t want to tell me,” Naito said.

A second specialist performed a tumor biopsy, and then discussed the results with a medical student outside the open door of the exam room where Naito waited.

“They walk by one time and I can hear [the doctor] say ‘5 centimeters,’” said Naito. “Then they walk the other way and I can hear him say, ‘Very bad.’”

Months later, the shock remained fresh.

“I knew what it was,” Naito said last month, his voice thick with emotion. “Once [tumors grow] beyond 3 centimeters, they’re big. It’s a negative sign.”

The botched delivery of his grim diagnosis left Naito determined to share one final lesson with future physicians: Be careful how you tell patients they’re dying.



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