Sixty-one parents of 43 neonates in a neonatal intensive care unit were interviewed within 3 days of their first conference with the neonatologist to assess their needs for medical information. The conference with the physician and the interview with the investigator were audiotaped. Information given by the physician and information recalled by the parents was categorized and rated by the investigator. The physicians gave very detailed information about diagnosis in 77% of cases whereas 39% of the parents recalled diagnostic information in great detail. Respective percentages for prognosis were 16 and 33; for current management (eg, investigation, therapy), 28 and 66; and for cause of illness, 16 and 18. The statistical significance of the differences between the very detailed information in the physician-parent conferences and in the parent-investigator interviews was, by category,<.002,<.041,<.004, and not significant, respectively. Information in the respective categories was described as "most helpful" by 20%, 67%, 90%, and 8% of parents. All but one of the parents stated that they wanted the whole truth. Physician uncertainty in providing information was significantly associated with severity of illness. It is concluded that while parents wanted information in all categories, they paid most attention to that relating to management. Physician-parent discordances with respect to information about management, diagnosis, and prognosis suggest directions for future investigation of the optimal content of information for parents in this context.

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