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The Undoing of a Diagnosis

Howard Fischer, MD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1996;150(10):1106. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1996.02170350108022.
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Barbero's interesting and eye-opening article1 reemphasizes the need for physicians to skillfully communicate with patients and parents. He mentions that several families were told of their child's (erroneous) diagnosis of cystic fibrosis via a telephone call. In the past 6 months, I have read and heard of the telephone's being used in deplorable and inhumane ways to deliver diagnoses. I offer these examples so that we may remind ourselves, our colleagues, and our students what is, and what is not, acceptable.

Telephone calls: (1) A pediatrician telephoned a family to tell them "Your child has leukemia." Even worse, this was in the 1960s, when a diagnosis of leukemia was practically a death sentence (oral communication from a witness to the call). (2) A father was informed about his unborn child's diagnosis of Down syndrome by telephone.2

Answering machine messages: (1) A family learned that their infant had congenital

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