Intended for healthcare professionals

Views And Reviews

What doctors say and what patients hear

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 16 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4453

Chinese translation


  1. Andrew McDonald, Scope chair
  1. Scope, 6 Market Road, London N7 9PW
  1. info{at}

When discussing serious health problems doctors and patients must speak a common language, says Andrew McDonald

This autumn the National Theatre’s repertoire will include a musical called A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer. What’s your first reaction? Revulsion at the poor taste of those involved? Despair that the theatre has nothing better to do? Or relief that a serious topic may be stripped of its mythology?

I’m in that last camp. But then, my perspective might be deemed somewhat peculiar: I’ve had prostate cancer since 2010, and three years ago it was declared incurable. Along the way I’ve acquired an interest in how health professionals communicate with patients about serious illnesses—and how this might be done better. To me, improving communication must start …

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