A Startling Number Of Women Now Get Their Breast Cancer Diagnosis Over The Phone

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A new study shows an alarming trend in cancer diagnoses: more often than not, patients are told of their diagnosis over the phone, rather than in person at the doctor’s office.

The study, titled “Breaking Bad News of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis over the Telephone: An Emerging Trend,” came out of the University of Missouri School of Medicine and was published in the monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal Supportive Care In Cancer.

The researchers studied almost 2,900 breast cancer patients, all of whom were diagnosed between 1967 and 2017.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Wrangler

Photo: Adobe Stock/Wrangler

The study revealed the following:

  • From 1967 to 2007, 25 percent of patients learned of their diagnosis over the telephone.
  • From 2007 to 2015, 50 percent of patients learned of their diagnosis over the telephone.
  • From 2015 to 2017, over 60 percent of patients learned of their diagnosis over the telephone.

Best practice is considered telling people in person, but it appears that the ease of today’s technology has changed that, and that younger generations now just want to know the information faster — and phones allow that to happen.

“Historically, physicians have decided to use their best judgment when delivering a diagnosis, whether it’s in person or over the phone. Nowadays, some patients clearly want to hear this information over the phone,” stated Jane McElroy, PhD, lead author of the study and a professor at the MU School of Medicine.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Bits and Splits

Photo: Adobe Stock/Bits and Splits

A positive result of the study is that MU School of Medicine is tweaking their curriculum so that the students in their program are prepared to successfully navigate this new trend.

First-year students now have additional training in developing a bedside manner that doesn’t involve any face-to-face when delivering upsetting or difficult news. Among the things they learn are ensuring the patient is in the best possible place to receive the news.

But the first place to start, of course, is establishing how the patient prefers to be informed of any news beforehand: in-person or on the phone.

There is still a lot of crossover between how to deliver bad news in person vs. over the phone, however. They check with the patient to see if they have a good support system, listen to any questions or concerns they have, and show they understand and empathize with the patient.

Photo: Adobe Stock/ leszekglasner

Photo: Adobe Stock/leszekglasner

“Anytime you break bad news, patients only hear a fraction of what you tell them,” said Natalie Long, MD, an assistant professor at the school. “So, that’s where the follow up is really important.”

What do you think about this? Did you get the news of your diagnosis over the phone or in person? Share with us in the comments!

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C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.
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