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Open Access Research article

In the shadow of bad news – views of patients with acute leukaemia, myeloma or lung cancer about information, from diagnosis to cure or death

Lena Hoff1*, Ulf Tidefelt2, Lars Thaning3 and Göran Hermerén1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Medical Ethics, Lund University, Sweden

2 Department of Medicine, Örebro University Hospital, Sweden

3 Department of Pulmonary Medicine, Örebro University Hospital, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC Palliative Care 2007, 6:1  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-6-1

Published: 24 January 2007

Abstract

Background

Many studies have been published about giving and receiving bad messages. However, only a few of them have followed the patients all the way through a disease as is done in this study. Many studies have been written about patients' coping strategies. In this study we will keep within the bounds of coping through information only. The aim of the study is to investigate patients' views of information during the trajectory of their disease, whether their reactions differ from each other and whether they differ in different phases of the disease.

Methods

Twelve patients with malignant haematological diseases or lung cancer were followed with interviews from diagnosis to recovery or into the terminal phase or at most for two years. The method is qualitative, using semi-structured interviews.

Setting: Örebro University Hospital or the patient's home.

Results

All patients described themselves as well informed from the start but in later phases of their disease some of them came to express a great uncertainty about the progressing disease and about the approaching death. Most of them, regardless of whether they had a haematological malignancy or lung cancer, expressed a wish to be well informed all through the disease and even when the messages were bad. Different strategies for coping with information, however, affected how they then dealt with the information received. Four such coping strategies were found: 1) Information-dependent and accepting; 2) Information-dependent but denying; 3) Medically informed and accepting; 4) Medically informed but denying.

Conclusion

To several patients there was an unmet need for information about the progressing disease and the approaching death. To optimize the care of these patients it seems important that the physician is aware of patients' need for information even when the news is bad. Knowing the patient's information strategy could probably function as a key for the physician to communicate with patients on these matters.