10 Worst Things Physicians Say to Patients

JUNE 14, 2016
Ryan Gray, MD

6. “When you are older/overweight/out of shape/diabetic/etc, you should expect these health issues"
Saying something like this suggests a disinterest in “minor” patient complaints. Even though these complaints may seem minor to you, they are very real to the patient. This is just another way of minimizing a patient’s concerns and, depending on what tone you take, could even be construed as ridicule. 
7. “It won’t hurt at all"
If you want to land in hot water, this is a good way to start. Every patient has a different pain threshold, so the safest route is to explain the procedure and discuss the patient’s options for pain management.
8. “I’m afraid I’ve got bad news"
This is melodramatic and doesn’t do your patient any favors. Although it can be difficult to be direct when delivering upsetting news, patients will appreciate your honesty and willingness to get right to the point.
9. “Why didn’t you see a doctor sooner?”
Chances are that your patient is in denial, embarrassed, couldn’t afford the doctor bill, couldn’t find a ride, etc. Making your patient feel guilty and essentially blaming them for “ignoring” their condition is just mean.   
10. “If you hadn’t [insert destructive behavior], this wouldn’t have happened"
Although it may be true that your patient probably wouldn’t have gotten lung cancer if he hadn’t smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for 30 years, it won’t do him any good to pump him full of regret and rub his face in it.
This bonus one is one that always makes me cringe: “I’m not sure why [insert doctor’s name] did that. It’s wrong/stupid/not appropriate."
I’m the first one to admit that we all make mistakes, but calling out your colleagues does nothing but add fear, anxiety, and anger to your patient's current situation. Discuss the situation first with the colleague you think did something wrong. If there is any sort of wrong doing, report it to the state licensure board and protect not just your current patient, but every future patient.

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