Published on

New research confirms the best practice use of the SPIKES method for conveying important diagnostic information to parents of children with cerebral palsy.

SPIKES is an acronym for a communication method widely accepted by healthcare professionals for use in providing upsetting news to patients, caregivers—and parents.  A recent study published in Science Direct from the University of Sydney applies the approach to delivering news to families of children who have received a diagnosis of development disability involving cerebral palsy.

What is SPIKES?

SPIKES is a communication protocol developed in 2000 by researchers developing a way to talk to patients and families about bad news.  The research was originally developed for delivery of news about cancer.

According to that research, the protocol was intended to shift the conversation about cancer from avoidance to patients who are informed.   Given treatment for cancer in the 1950’s through 1970, some physicians felt it was inappropriate to alarm or discourage a patient with straightforward news about their condition.  This attitude may have inadvertently contributed to the stigma felt by some patients suffering cancer—so no one talked about it.

As treatment methods and knowledge about cancer expand, so have the means by which information is communicated.  The SPIKES method has proven successful and is used in a variety of settings where adverse or discouraging diagnostic news is delivered.

The acronym, SPIKES, stands for the six-steps used in the protocol, including:

  • (S) Set up the interview: Arrange for a private appointment with the patient and their significant others in advance. Ensure diagnostic, genetic, or other health information is available to answer questions.
  • (P) Assess perception: Inquire about the knowledge of the patient or parents about the disability.  Assessing perception gauges how familiar the information might be—perhaps the parents suspected their child may have cerebral palsy.  Open-ended questions allow parents to voice concerns and fears.
  • Invitation: This step involves assessing the desire of parents to understand information about a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. While many parents or patients wish to know everything possible, parents have the right to avoid information they do not want to process at present.  At this step, physicians make it clear information is always available if desired.
  • (K) Knowledge: At this stage, information is conveyed after the physician has indicated the news may be difficult or complicated. Information is provided and questions are answered in a straightforward way without excessive use of complex medical language.
  • (E) Emotions: An empathetic response to the reaction of parents, or a patient, helps parents vent and acknowledge emotions without rush or judgment.
  • (S) Strategy: The last step is the beginning of the next phase of treatment for the patient and their family.  After a summary, first steps are planned to help the patient and parents move forward with an appropriate treatment plan for their needs.

The SPIKES protocol helps parents and physicians find common ground for helping a child with a disability diagnosis reach their potential.  The first step starts with information.

Speak with knowledgeable malpractice attorneys after birth injury

In Baltimore, Washington D.C, or across the country, Schochor, Staton, Goldberg, and Cardea, P.A. delivers experienced legal service to families whose children have suffered birth injury including cerebral palsy, shoulder dystocia, or other forms of labor negligence.  Contact us today or call 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation.