Sometimes therapy is a matter of restoring mobility and rehabilitating someone’s physical capabilities to the original state, however, as we all know that is not always the case. Often times, the patient must learn to live with physical restrictions and use therapy to learn to adapt to a more permanent disability. This is not always welcome news and it takes a certain approach to communicating this type of information to the patients.

Giving a patient unwelcome medical information is a skill. While poor delivery can result in mistrust, noncompliance and dissatisfaction with care, effective handling of bad news can result in just the opposite. In physical therapy, the ability to communicate is particularly important, says Anne Reicherter, DPT, PhD, OCS, associate professor, department of physical therapy, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore. Physical therapists may have to deliver bad news to a patient because other healthcare providers have not or because, despite having heard the news, the patient is in denial. “Sometimes, patients don’t understand what it really means until they have difficulty walking or functioning, and then it hits them. The physical therapist is in the position of giving the bad news that, yes, this is a disability and, yes, you are going to have to adapt to this,” Reicherter says.