I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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What if she really doesn’t want to handle the truth? Nuanced discussion of how to inform patients of a terminal diagnosis

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This article in the Guardian, Should a doctor always disclose a terminal illness?, had me hopping at the title.

Should a doctor always disclose a terminal illness? Absolutely yes.  Every time.

Then I read the article.  It gave me pause.

Doctors and other health care providers must be truthful and forthcoming.  But, it gave me pause because that conversation when sharing the worst news of someone’s health status is nuanced, individualized and contextual.

I teach health care providers about consent and informed consent.  There is a legal test. It is clear and I can repeat it for you any time anywhere and I do.

What I liked about this article was the backstory of one of these conversations. In the context of family milling around and language barriers and interpreters and culture clashes.

Not going to lie – it made me uncomfortable.  Part way through I was thinking: “oh, let’s not go there that people who don’t speak the primary language don’t get the same information as those who do.”  and I was also thinking “I get it that some families don’t want their frail elderly fully informed about their situations – but those frail elderly get to know!”

But the story is so much more.  Sensitivity.  To have these conversations there must be space for listening to what the patient wants. How the patient wants to hear the information. How the patient’s family needs to be involved and considered.

The author writes: Finally, we will never know what patients want if we fail to ask. We should assume nothing but respect an individual’s decision to know only so much. Navigating this fine line comprises the art of medicine.

This article is a must read for all of us in health care who are committed to being patient-centred. This is a story of living in the simplicity and complexity of those day to day to day to day conversations and striving to do the right thing. The answers are asking and listening.


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Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Health Privacy Officer training
September 22, 2020

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations - now totally online.

This course focuses on how to become a more confident privacy officer and gives you the tools to document your privacy program. Full details and registration here...

Primary care webinars: Employment Law Update & Legal Issues for EDs and Board members

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our September program is on privacy litigation and the October program will address harassment issues and scenarios.
Full details of the 2020 webinar series and registration here.

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the first Wednesday of every month (Off for the Summer - next up: September 2 and October 7)

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Free Part X CYFSA privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the second Wednesday of every month (next up: July 8 and August 12)

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Team Privacy Training Events
July 8, 23, 28 August 4, October 7, 8

For Primary Care clinics, Hospitals, Community Agencies and Children’s Aid

Kate trains health professionals from many more health care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

Kate says:

My mission is bringing the law to life. I make legal theory understandable, accessible and fun! I’m available and love to work for all organizations in the healthcare sector across Ontario and beyond.

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