How to Break Bad News

Bad news is defined as any information that represents an unexpected or undesirable future. We consider something to be meaningful because it impacts our future happiness, either positively or negatively. Breaking negative news to pet owners is a common occurrence for veterinary practitioners. This difficult task requires empathy, refined communication skills and resilience.   

Not only does breaking bad news commonly result in negative emotional reactions in the recipient, but it is also challenging for the bearer of the news. As, not only is making someone else feel upset unsettling, but the bearer may also be concerned about a backlash from an upset client. 

This 45 minute webinar is aimed at mainly veterinary surgeons, but also potentially veterinary nurses, and describes the principles and practices surrounding breaking bad news. 

Key Information

Duration / Length 1 hours
Start DateAnytime
Format video
Entry Requirements working in veterinary practice
Author / Speaker Brian Faulkner FRCVS
Cost £25.00 + VAT

Course Content

A person deems news as “bad” when they believe that it means their future will be worse than expected.    

Breaking bad news occurs in veterinary practice for various reasons.

  1. When a pet has died under anaesthetic.
  2. When we diagnose a terminal illness.
  3. When a pet’s illness results in a permanent issue, even if it isn’t fatal: e.g. amputation. 
  4. When a therapeutic intervention / surgical operation hasn’t been successful or involved a serious complication. Or when we report that a patient’s medical status has worsened.
  5. Unexpected financial costs on the list, although I will focus on bad news related to events that have impacted the patient.

The principle of planning and preparation is based upon the fact that achieving good outcomes rarely happens by accident. Planning and preparation is the process of analysing and evaluating potential pathways through uncertainty. 

In terms of preparing to give bad news, this webinar looks at it from the point of view of Who, What, Why, Where, When & How.  

Learning Objectives

Whilst there is no perfect formula for how to deliver bad news, there are principles worth considering when dealing with them. This webinar uses the acronym PREP to summarise the learning objectives:

P – Learn how to prepare to give bad news.
R – Learn key communication tactics to relay the news.     
– Learn how to anticipate and handle the client’s emotional reaction to receiving the news.
P – Learn how to deal with some practical decisions relating to the situation. 

What's Next?

A really interesting and useful method to help with those dreaded bad news conversations in practice. I'll always have PREP in the back of my mind now!

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