Imagine sitting at your computer and you see a new email from your doctor that has a subject of “Great News”. You have not been well for some time with symptoms that everyone has designated as in your head. You have been to the ER and multiple specialist.
You open the email and it says… Great news, you have a slow growing rare form of cancer. The test was positive!
I wish I was making this up but it actually happened to my client. I was forwarded the email immediately, and asked “what does this mean?” I had to read the doctor’s email several time as I felt the slow burn inside me . I called my client and said you need to either see the doctor today or call. My client was seen several hours later. We were able to create a list of questions to take to the appointment.
There is also a possibility that the test was a false positive and further work up is needed. Why give this information in this way?
OK, so I get that the doctor was trying to verify my client’s struggle and gets points for letting her know immediately. However, minus 2,000 points for being tone deaf and insensitive to the profound impact a diagnosis like this has on a person.
I don’t even want to speculate as to why the doctor selected this method of communication to give such horrific news. Technology is only a tool and does not take the place of human interaction. It should have been an opportunity for the doctor to provide comfort and information.
Another sub text here is my client’s struggle to get anyone to listen to the symptoms. Because most of the symptoms didn’t add up or create basic positive lab and diagnostic test results , my client had to push to be heard. That is how I became involved when my client’s frustration level began to max out. The doctor had done this last test because a colleague suggested it as something to try. One specialist even wrote in a medical note, the symptoms were related to anxiety.
Here is my message to all medical professionals no matter where you work or level of care you provide: Don’t deliver bad news by email. If technology is the only way, then consider SKYPE. And even then, consider the impact and the potential need for immediate support.