Introduction: Although most patients wish to be fully informed about bad news such as a diagnosis of cancer, a significant minority prefer no or minimal information. We examined the value of asking patients about their disclosure preferences at the outset of hospitalization.
Methods: Consecutive patients admitted to a respiratory and a geriatric unit were asked whether and how they would wish to be told of cancer or Alzheimer disease.
Results: Of the 207 patients interviewed, 174 (84%) wanted to be told about cancer or dementia; the proportion who would wish to be told did not differ between older patients (89 of 108 patients; 82%) and younger patients (85 of 99 patients; 86%; p = 0.34). Thirty patients (15%) sought reassurance during or after the interview, and 13 patients (6%) reported that they had been bothered by the questions. Of the 207 patients, cancer or dementia was diagnosed in 23 patients (11%). Preferences for disclosure or nondisclosure were honored for 20 patients (87%).
Conclusions: Seeking preferences regarding truth disclosure at the outset of hospitalization is helpful and feasible in everyday practice, and the results can be used by clinicians to improve communication with patients and families in accordance with patients’ own wishes.