Should Your Physician Confide if She Just Lost a Patient?

Your physician is running late. She’s composing herself before entering the exam room where you’re waiting. If, understandably, she’s not her usual bubbly self, should she confide that she just lost a patient?

That was the hypothetical situation presented to a seminar with medical students. Those who argued for disclosure believed that doing so would humanize the physician and strengthen the clinician-patient bond. Those patients would benefit from knowing how much their physician cares for her patients. 

Students who argued against disclosure feared patients would lose confidence, worried their physician wasn’t 100% focused on their problems. Or maybe worried they, too, would die.

My personal take was the physician should not disclose. Since each patient’s response will be unique and unpredictable, I wouldn’t risk stressing the patient or the relationship.

Would I say nothing, with hope my patients didn’t notice my atypical unbubbliness? No. I’d say, “Sorry you had to wait. Another patient was in need. Now let’s focus on you and why you are here.”  

This response sends healing messages:
•    “I’m there for my patients in need. I’ll be there for you, if ever you are in need.”
•    I care about my patients, but I always focus on the patient in front of me.

If the patient wants to know if the other patient is okay, a useful answer, said gently, “Thanks for asking. I can’t talk about other patients. I’m here now, ready to take care of you.” 

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