Death Notification: Someone Needs To Call the Family.

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Death Notification: Someone Needs To Call the Family.

J Palliat Med. 2017 Jan 18;:

Authors: Ombres R, Montemorano L, Becker D

BACKGROUND: The death notification process can affect family grief and bereavement. It can also affect the well-being of involved physicians. There is no standardized process for making death notification phone calls. We assumed that residents are likely to be unprepared before and troubled after.
OBJECTIVE: We investigated current death notification practices to develop an evidence-based template for standardizing this process.
DESIGN: We used results of a literature review and open-ended interviews with faculty, residents, and widows to develop a survey regarding resident training and experience in death notification by phone.
SETTING/SUBJECTS: We invited all internal medicine (IM) residents at our institution to complete the survey.
MEASUREMENTS: Sixty-seven of 93 IM residents (72%) responded to the survey. Eighty-seven percent of responders reported involvement in a death that required notification by phone.
RESULTS: Eighty percent of residents felt inadequately trained for this task. Over 25% reported that calls went poorly. Attendings were involved in 17% of cases. Primary care physicians were not involved. Nurses and chaplains were not involved. Respondents never delayed notification of death until family arrived at the hospital. There was no consistent approach to rehearsing or making the call, advising families about safe travel to the hospital, greeting families upon arrival, or following up with expressions of condolence.
CONCLUSIONS: Poor communication skills during death notification may contribute to complicated grief for surviving relatives and stress among physicians. This study is the first to describe current practices of death notification by IM residents. More training is needed and could be combined with training in disclosure of medical error.

PMID: 28099046 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

One Comment

  1. Physicians are in a awkward position for death notifications because of the need to most often make calls by phone instead of sharing the news in person. When the opportunity occurs for a face to face notification, the results are usually more satisfying for both the physician and the surviving family even though it is more emotionally difficult to break news in person than during a phone call. Additionally, it remains important to inform families promptly of any change whether they are in the facility or not. There are training sessions available for police and chaplains concerning notifications which cover in person delivery of the news, and understanding those procedures would be of great benefit to all hospital staff members. This area of concern should probably be included along with any training for physician communication with patient families.

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