[Schizophrenia diagnostic announcement in a French psychiatric unit]

J F Rocamora, R Benadhira, G Saba, L Stamatadis, K Kalalaou, G Dumortier, M Plaze, B Aubriot-Delmas, J Glikman, D Januel
L'Encéphale 2005, 31 (4 Pt 1): 449-55
Announcement of schizophrenia diagnostic to the patients is a topical issue in France. The evolution in clinical practices, a better efficiency in therapeutic procedures and the fundamental right of the patient to obtain information have initialised the discussion of its interest. Spontaneous claim for information from the patient is rarely observed although awareness troubles might be reported at the instauration of the mental disorder or during its evolution. Methodological studies concerning the diagnostic announcement are limited. Except the Bayle studies recently published, only a few publications are available in France about the knowledge of their pathology and their need to be clearly informed. French scientific literature deals generally about medico-legal aspects of this information and consisted of survey about diagnostic announcement. International literature is more abundant and presents positive and negative aspects of the announcement. An information procedure of schizophrenia announcement to the patient has been developed in our hospitalisation unit of psychiatry. This procedure has taken place on the basis of the literature data, our specificity and our clinical experiences. For some Anglo-American psychiatrists who have proceeded to semi-structured interview in order to announce the diagnostic, information to the patients might improve the clinical relationship. Thus, compliance to the treatment is significantly increased. The ability of the patient to recognise the symptoms of the disease and to accept their consequences and the treatments is associated to a better social prognosis, daily activities and response to the treatment. The announcement impact justifies the prescription of neuroleptics, treatment that is notoriously perceived as prejudicial by the patients themselves or more commonly in the basic population. To obtain compliance to the treatment, a satisfactory acceptance of the mental disorder is required. Compliance is based on satisfactory information in order to gain the cooperation of the patient and its relative (10). Atkinson has classified four main types of arguments, the ethical principle to be informed, talk to explain and give sense to the symptoms, reduce the feeling of guilt perceived by the patient and his relative and enhance the collaboration between the patient and the nursing staff. According to Ferreri and Bayle studies French psychiatrists reluctance to announce schizophrenia diagnostic are the following: lack of request or of interrogations asked by the patient about their disease, diagnostic and prognosis uncertainty and irreversibility of the disease, complexity of the pathology and its origin which hinder an accessible explanation, cognitive disorders frequently observed with schizophrenic patients which may be associated with difficulties of understanding information, destabilization of the patient-nursing staff relationship and social stigmatisation risks. Other arguments like reluctance to give a "label" to the disease, too abstract diagnostic, a negative social vision and the possibility of discouragement for the relative are classically retrieved in French literature. In fact, divulgation of the term schizophrenia involves a panel of negative representations and is hindered by the confusion in the social imagination of such a term related with lost of control, quintessence of madness, dangerous behaviour possibilities, evil and incurability. Some psychiatrists do not transmit information arguing that significant obstruction of the future may be consecutive to the information. They prefer to use vague terms more socially acceptable like "nervous breakdown or depression, atypical or emotional disorder, dissociative troubles...". Information to the patient about his mental disorder is more frequent in psychiatry for affective, anxious and additive troubles than for schizophrenia. Our procedure of diagnostic announcement has been elaborated after preliminary discussion with the medical and nursing staff. Diagnostic of schizophrenia announcement has been presented by weighing the pros and cons according to the intemational literature. It clearly appeared that benefits for the patients prevail on the drawbacks. Nevertheless, inclusion and clinical supervision have to be carefully precised in particular to verify the ability to receive information. Short term objectives: deliver progressively information to the patient about his disease by means of an active and educational process with hope and optimism using a accessible language (explanation of each terms used with the intention of being well understood); quantify the impact of diagnostic announcement on the schizophrenic patient using clinical rating scales during a period of one month (clinical interview at day 1, day 7 and day 28). Mid term objectives: improve the global supervision and autonomy of schizophrenic by means of a therapeutic project helping the patient to become an active partner in the monitoring of his mental disorder; enhance a psycho-educational program after the procedure of announcement in order to optimise the observance of his treatment, increase his quality of life and answer to the requests of his relative; 45 patients (age 29.3 +/- 8.8 years old) have been included to be informed on their diagnostic since the elaboration of this procedure during a time period of 24 months. Time interval between the beginning of their pathology and the delivering of this information was 4.7 years. Most of them (56%) presented a paranoid type of schizophrenia. In most of the cases, the patients did not know their diagnostic or declared suffering from a diagnostic, which was erroneous; 80% of the 45 patients have complied with the procedure until its end. On more than 24 of following after the instauration of the diagnostic announcement procedure, these patients ha ve presented satisfactory observance to the medical supervision (medical consultation and drug intake); 60% of the patients were regularly present to their medical appointment. The number of patients included (45 patients) appears small compared to the time interval of the study (24 months) but was significant according to the great changes in our clinical approach. Thus, this procedure was not systematically applied, in particular the patients who did not want to be informed on their disease. Is it clinically relevant or not to announce diagnostic of schizophrenia to the patient? This issue remains questioned according to the few studies published at the present time, any consensus has been clearly presented on formal indications or contra-indications. If on an ethical side, this information appears logical, the medical and nursing staff should require special care. Special care must be taken before delivering information to the patients; each situation must be evaluated in order not to comply with an ideology of total and inadequate information, which could have serious consequences. Nevertheless, it appeared clearly that information must be given to stabilized patients with satisfactory insight. Moreover, psychotherapeutic projects become easier because patients awareness and understanding towards pathological symptoms are greatly improved. Partnership between patient and medical staff is the key of this dynamic and psycho-educative procedure, which opens new horizons in our therapeutic prospect.

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