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How health professionals need to discuss end of life situations – during coronavirus and beyond

The coronavirus pandemic has led to many difficult and urgent conversations taking place in hospitals. There will doubtless be many more. Over the last few days, I’ve been drawing together advice about discussing sensitive and distressing topics based on evidence from my own work and from work by other researchers who study real life examples of these kinds of exchanges.

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This article appears in the Conversation.

I have shared this advice with UK palliative care experts who are producing COVID-19 specific guidance for the NHS. That guidance will combine clinical wisdom and research in order to help healthcare staff who will have to have many difficult conversations in the coming weeks and months.

Researchers like me analyse human interaction – how it is structured, and how it functions. This means that besides giving evidence-based advice on difficult conversations relating to coronavirus, we can also provide some general lessons about how phrases work (and fail).

Even with evidence-based advice on which phrases to use in difficult conversations, it is important to remember the importance of context and nuance. For example, one phrase currently recommended by many in the field of healthcare for when the medical judgement is that someone’s death is imminent is: “sick enough to die”.

But it’s one thing to read a “key phrase” in published guidance, and quite another to say or hear it in an actual conversation. However appropriate the phrase looks on the page or screen, it might fail utterly when spoken out loud...

Professor Ruth Parry, an expert in healthcare communication and interaction who receives funding from the National Institute for Health Research(NIHR), discusses how health professionals need to discuss end of life situations in the Conversation.

Read the full article here

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