Communicating with persons and their families about serious illness and complex health care decisions is a skill that requires training and practice just like any other medical procedure, according to Diane Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care. Dr. Meier offers health care professionals ten critical steps to follow when having difficult conversations, such as with someone whose scans have shown progression of an incurable cancer.

ACS-CAN-Mother-8.5x11-231x300While physicians, nurses, and others specializing in palliative care -- which adds an extra layer of support to provide relief from symptoms, pain, and stress associated with serious illness -- can be expected to have mastery over this kind of communication, most health care providers don't receive adequate training in this essential skill.  Delivering "bad news" is something that all health professionals need to be ready to do, in a way that gives patients ownership and control over the exchange of information, focuses on listening to the patient more than talking, and allows people to be the "captain of their medical ship," just as Dr. Meier describes.

Support-Palliative-Care-Legislation-150x150This teaching tool was made possible by the Mayday Fund, a colleague foundation that is dedicated to alleviating the incidence, degree, and consequence of human physical pain.  They Mayday Fund, like us, is a grant funder of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, and we share their interest in promoting greater understanding and usage of this specialized care for anyone with serious illness, whether at the end of life or undergoing curative treatment.

The American Cancer Society is another key advocate.  They have recently launched an ad campaign to raise public awareness about palliative care and we hope you will share the message, as well as this video for teaching health care providers to improve their communication with older adults and others with serious illness.

This is the fifth in an occasional series. See other Health AGEnda posts on Tools You Can Use:

Tools You Can Use: Detecting Cognitive Impairment During the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit

Tools You Can Use: Preparing a Personal Advance Care Plan

Tools You Can Use: Guidelines for Assessing Patients Facing Surgery

Tools You Can Use: Principles for Treating Patients with Multiple Chronic Conditions