Purpose: To assess the effectiveness of news delivery interventions to improve observer-rated skills, physician confidence, and patient-reported depression/anxiety.
Method: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, and Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials databases were searched from inception to September 5, 2016 (updated February 2017). Eligible studies included randomized controlled trials (RCTs), non-RCTs, and controlled before-after studies of interventions to improve the communication of bad or difficult news by physicians, medical students, and residents/interns. The EPOC risk of bias tool was used to conduct a risk of bias assessment. Main and secondary meta-analyses examined the effectiveness of the identified interventions for improving observer-rated news delivery skills and for improving physician confidence in delivering news and patient-reported depression/anxiety, respectively.
Results: Seventeen studies were included in the systematic review and meta-analysis, including 19 independent comparisons on 1,322 participants and 9 independent comparisons on 985 participants for the main and secondary (physician confidence) analyses (mean [SD] age = 35  years; 46% male), respectively. Interventions were associated with large, significant improvements in observer-rated news delivery skills (19 comparisons: standardized mean difference [SMD] = 0.74, 95% CI = 0.47–1.01) and moderate, significant improvements in physician confidence (9 comparisons: SMD = 0.60, 95% CI = 0.26–0.95). One study reported intervention effects on patient-reported depression/anxiety. The risk of bias findings did not influence the significance of the results.
Conclusions: Interventions are effective for improving news delivery and physician confidence. Further research is needed to test the impact of interventions on patient outcomes and determine optimal components and length.