Breaking bad news over the phone

Because of the restrictions in visiting during the COVID-19 pandemic, it might be necessary to communicate difficult information over the phone. This is not something that is usually recommended but it is necessary to keep the family updated about their loved ones.

There are some simple strategies that we can all adopt to make it as easy as possible for the individuals who are receiving this bad news over the phone, including:

  1. Check it’s the correct person, making sure you are talking to their next of kin, or you have had permission prior to the phone call from the patient to talk to that relative
  2. Ask them what their understanding is of the current situation
  3. Find out what they want to know
  4. Warn the person on the phone that you are about to tell them some bad news
  5. Communicate the information in short sentences using simple language, without ambiguity
  6. Give the recipient a chance to receive the information
  7. Offer your condolences
Mark as Understood

© Institute of Clinical Science and Technology (ICST) 2020