I am a physician who frequently sees patients who may be critically ill. When I suspect that they have a life-threatening disease (cancer in most cases), I do a series of tests. Lab results usually take four to seven days to process, so I make a follow-up appointment with the patient in eight days.

I try to be very clear with the patient about the nature of my suspicions (although I also say that until the pathology report comes back, nothing is definitive); the patient knows, in other words, that the follow-up appointment is one in which they’ll receive good or bad news.

If the results come back from the lab earlier than expected, am I obligated to inform the patient immediately? Or is it okay to sit on this news for three or four days and wait until I see the person in my office?

— Doctor Sad