A Guide for Healthcare Staff to Deliver Tough News to Families


Working in healthcare can present a fair number of professional challenges. In some cases, delivering tough news to the families of a patient can be one of the most heart-wrenching experiences. But, no matter how you may try to avoid it, it’s an essential component to the job. How can you make sure that you’re doing a good enough job? Here is a short guide for delivering tough news to families.

Step into their shoes.

There is nothing more important than empathy when you find yourself in this situation. Consider how the family might feel when you share the news with them. Be careful in the words you choose and try not to rely on overly scientific definitions.

Don’t rush.

You also don’t need to rush this news. It might be in human nature to flee uncomfortable situations, but this is news that will need more attention. Don’t rush, be clear, and provide space and an ear for the family to ask questions and understand.

Be honest.

There is no point in sugar coating negative news. That’s what you’re there to do, and you need to do it without being dishonest in the way you present the information. Honesty will be very important when it comes to the family acceptance of the situation.

Provide hope.

However, just because you have to be honest doesn’t mean you can’t be hopeful. Be sure to share with them the information that will allow them to see what the positive results can be. The silver lining is an important aspect to understanding and accepting.

Pause for processing.

You should also allow time for the family to process the information and ask questions. Just be present. It’s okay not to fill every moment with conversation or conjecture.

Have a plan for what’s next.

But you should always be able to provide some ideas of what they can expect next. This might be the care the family needs to provide, what doctors want to try, or how they can help with the situation to try to achieve the best outcome possible.

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