This is a very frequent station in the OSCE. The steps are:
1. Getting started.
The physical setting ought to be private, with both physician and patient comfortably seated. You should ask the patient who else ought to be present, and let the patient decide--studies show that different patients have widely varying views on what they would want. It is helpful to start with a question like, "How are you feeling right now?" to indicate to the patient that this conversation will be a two-way affair.
2. Finding out how much the patient knows.
By asking a question such as, "What have you already been told about your illness?" you can begin to understand what the patient has already been told ("I have lung cancer, and I need surgery"), or how much the patient understood about what's been said ("the doctor said something about a spot on my chest x-ray"), the patients level of technical sophistication ("I've got a T2N0 adenocarcinoma"), and the patient's emotional state ("I've been so worried I might have cancer that I haven't slept for a week").
3. Finding out how much the patient wants to know.
It is useful to ask patients what level of detail you should cover. For instance, you can say, "Some patients want me to cover every medical detail, but other patients want only the big picture--what would you prefer now?" This establishes that there is no right answer, and that different patients have different styles. Also this question establishes that a patient may ask for something different during the next conversation.
4. Sharing the information.
Decide on the agenda before you sit down with the patient, so that you have the relevant information at hand. The topics to consider in planning an agenda are: diagnosis, treatment, prognosis, and support or coping. However, an appropriate agenda will usually focus on one or two topics. For a patient on a medicine service whose biopsy just showed lung cancer, the agenda might be: a) disclose diagnosis of lung cancer; b) discuss the process of workup and formulation of treatment options ("We will have the cancer doctors see you this afternoon to see whether other tests would be helpful to outline your treatment options"). Give the information in small chunks, and be sure to stop between each chunk to ask the patient if he or she understands ("I'm going to stop for a minute to see if you have questions"). Long lectures are overwhelming and confusing. Remember to translate medical terms into English, and don't try to teach pathophysiology.
5. Responding to the patients feelings.
If you don't understand the patient's reaction, you will leave a lot of unfinished business, and you will miss an opportunity to be a caring physician. Learning to identify and acknowledge a patient's reaction is something that definitely improves with experience, if you're attentive, but you can also simply ask ("Could you tell me a bit about what you are feeling?").
6. Planning and follow-through.
At this point you need to synthesize the patient's concerns and the medical issues into a concrete plan that can be carried out in the patient's system of health care. Outline a step-by-step plan, explain it to the patient, and contract about the next step. Be explicit about your next contact with the patient ("I'll see you in clinic in 2 weeks") or the fact that you won't see the patient ("I'm going to be rotating off service, so you will see Dr. Back in clinic"). Give the patient a phone number or a way to contact the relevant medical caregiver if something arises before the next planned contact.