Original article
Family physicians’ opinions on and difficulties with breaking bad news
José António Ferraz Gonçalvesa,, , Carla Almeidab, Joana Amorimc, Rita Baltasard, Joana Batistae, Yusianmar Borrerof, João Pedro Fallég, Igor Fariah, Manuel Henriquesi, Helena Maiaj, Teresa Fernandesk, Mariana Moreiral, Susana Moreiram, Camila Nevesn, Ana Ribeiroo, Ana Santosp, Filipa Silvaq, Susana Soaresr, Cristina Sousas, Joana Vicentet, Rita Xavieru
a Portuguese Institute of Oncology, Palliative Care, Porto, Portugal
b Unidade de Saúde Familiar Famílias, Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal
c Unidade de Saúde Familiar Santa Clara, Póvoa de Varzim/Vila do Conde, Portugal
d Unidade de Saúde Familiar Santa Maria, Bragança, Portugal
e Unidade de Saúde Familiar Terras de Ferreira, Paços de Ferreira, Portugal
f Unidade de Saúde Familiar Lethes, Ponte de Lima, Portugal
g Unidade de Saúde Familiar Lagoa – Senhora da Hora, Matosinhos, Portugal
h Unidade de Saúde Familiar Gil Eanes, Viana do Castelo, Portugal
i Unidade de Saúde Familiar Ramalde, Aldoar, Porto, Portugal
j Unidade de Saúde Familiar Porta do Sol, Matosinhos, Portugal
k Unidade de Saúde Familiar Infesta, Matosinhos, Portugal
l Unidade de Saúde Familiar Mar, Póvoa de Varzim/Vila do Conde, Portugal
m Unidade de Saúde Familiar Arco do Prado, Gaia, Portugal
n Unidade de Saúde Familiar São Mamede Infesta, Matosinhos, Portugal
o Unidade de Saúde Familiar Oceanos, Matosinhos, Portugal
p Unidade de Saúde Familiar São João, Porto, Portugal
q Unidade de Saúde USF Nova Lousada, Lousada, Portugal
r Unidade de Saúde Familiar São Martinho, Penafiel, Portugal
s Unidade de Saúde Familiar Renascer, Gondomar, Portugal
t Unidade de Saúde Familiar Macedo de Cavaleiros, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Portugal
u Unidade de Saúde Familiar Aldoar, Porto, Portugal
Received 30 December 2016, Accepted 12 April 2017

Family practice is the specialty with the highest number of doctors and covers all of Portugal. Therefore, the attitude of these doctors may have a high impact on patients.


To explore the opinion and difficulties of Portuguese family doctors on dealing with communication with patients with life threatening diseases.


A questionnaire was sent to about 10% of family doctors of Northern Portugal. The questionnaire included questions about the disclosure of information, if they feel they need training courses and what they would want if they had a life-threatening disease.


A questionnaire was given to 196 doctors and 159 (81%) participated in this study. The median age was 43 years (26–64) and 108 (68%) were females. One hundred thirty-five (85%) consider that breaking bad news is a difficult task. One hundred twenty-four (78%) feel they need training in breaking bad news. For many doctors, the disclosure of diagnoses and prognoses has a detrimental psychological effect and affects patients’ hope, but gives patients’ control of the situation. Given a situation where the doctors themselves had a life-threatening disease, the vast majority would want to know the diagnosis and the prognosis and to participate in treatment decisions.


Breaking bad news is still a difficult task. Their attitude to this duty is different from what they would wish if they themselves had a life-threatening disease. One important conclusion is the need of specific training in communication for family physicians that should begin in the training phase of their specialty.

Breaking bad news, Diagnosis disclosure, Prognosis disclosure, Family physicians

Open Access

Creative Commons License
Porto Biomedical Journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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