I have previously discussed the difficulty of presenting bad news to a patient. How you give good news is also important.
A friend received a preliminary diagnosis of cancer, based on a pathology sample that was reviewed by a general purpose commercial laboratory. Her doctor suspected differently and asked one of our BIDMC pathologists, who is a specialist in this particular area, to review the samples. He concluded that there was no cancer.
The doctor thoughtfully called the patient as soon as he heard the news. Here is a transcript of the voicemail message he left (reprinted with her permission, with names changed):
Betty, hello, this is Dr. Smith. I'm calling you back again. It is Saturday. I have some important information to share with you prior to your MRI on Monday. Please give us a call at 617-632-****. You will reach the page operator. I am not the doctor on call but you can ask that I am paged. And if they give you a hard time, tell the other physician that I want to talk with you, and she'll pass the message along to me.
By now, about 35 seconds had passed, endlessly in her mind. You can imagine her distress.
It's good news. I hope to speak to you soon.
She starts to scream with joy.
All's well that ends well, but imagine if he had started with: It's good news. I hope to speak to you soon.