The ill physician who self-discloses: What do patients think?

Barry Knishkowy, Noga Guggenheim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Physicians with a serious illness face difficult decisions about revealing this sensitive information to patients. Self-disclosure of illness is a largely unexplored topic, particularly from the patient’s perspective. Objectives: To learn about patients’ emotions and reactions to their family physician’s sharing with them about having a major illness. Methods: The study was carried out in a family practice office in a suburb of Jerusalem, beginning the day that a family physician returned to work after a prolonged illness. A questionnaire study was performed with nine closed and four open questions relating to patients’ reactions to learning about the illness. The questionnaire was distributed to 200 consecutive patients ages 18 years or older. Data extraction, compilation, and content analysis were performed to elicit and categorise major themes and issues that arose. Results: A total of 82% of the patients were pleased that the physician shared the information with them and none were displeased. Patients expressed a wide range of reactions to being told of the illness by the physician himself, among them: empathy, surprise, appreciation, pride, criticism, comfort/discomfort, and closeness. The value of sharing personal experience and the unique connection with the family physician were emphasised. Conclusion: Physician self-disclosure of major illnesses to patients can reveal the physician’s humanity, encourage empathy on the part of patients and strengthen the physician-patient relationship. This report adds to current knowledge about when to share this powerful information with patients and highlights the topic’s importance in the education of future doctors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-251
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of General Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Isella Knishkowy, BA (psychotherapist and post-partum group facilitator) for assistance with data processing and review of the manuscript; and to Liora Valinsky, RN, MPH (Israel Ministry of Health) and Fabienne Hershkowitz, PhD (Department of Medical Quality Assessment, Meuhedet Health Services), for statistical analyses and graphical design for a conference presentation of the quantitative results.

FundersFunder number
Ministry of Health, State of Israel


    • General practice/family medicine
    • communication
    • general patient involvement (empowerment self-management)


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