There was a jarring story in HealthDay recently about a survey that found doctors do a poor job telling patients they have cancer. One woman got the news in a voice mail; another heard when she was told she needed to schedule an appointment with a neurosurgeon. When she asked why, her doctor said because she had a brain tumor and hung up. Two words–bedside manner.
The HealthDay article said that doctors often drop this bomb on people in public settings or over the phone. My doctor told me over the phone because I wanted him to. They didn’t get the results until the day before I was scheduled to leave on a business trip, and I didn’t want the uncertainty hanging over me for a second weekend (my biopsy was on Friday of the previous week–not real swift scheduling on my part). He called me around 6 that evening so we could talk without interruption.
I really didn’t mind getting the news over the phone. I mean, if he had said come in so we can talk he would have given it away–so just tell me. Voice mail would be a different story. You don’t drop something like that on someone in a voice mail. That’s just common sense and common courtesy.
Disclosure: I wasn’t the best about telling my husband Bruce when I flunked my second mammogram and found out I needed a biopsy. I was trying to figure out how to tell him after work that day when he happened to mention a colleague’s wife needed a biopsy. I thought, “Great, here’s my opening,” and blurted, “I need a biopsy too.” While a biopsy isn’t quite the shock the cancer diagnosis is, it might be good to preface news like that with a bit of a warning.
I’m curious to hear how this went for others. If anyone has stories you’d like to share about how you got the news–whether it was cancer or another big diagnosis–please feel free to share your comments.
Update: In a post several weeks ago, I talked about how I didn’t agree with the coding for my most recent mammogram. They had coded it as a diagnostic mammogram instead of a routine screening, so I was responsible for the full covered amount. The screening would only require a co-pay. I asked them to audit the code, and they did. I just got a revised bill that says I am responsible for $14.50 instead of $145. The moral of that story is to keep your eye on those bills.