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J Palliat Med. 2017 Jun;20(6):672-675. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2016.0481. Epub 2017 Jan 18.

Death Notification: Someone Needs To Call the Family.

Author information

1
1 Hospice and Palliative Medicine Fellow, National Institutes of Health , Bethesda, Maryland.
2
2 School of Medicine Class of 2017, c/o Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, University of Virginia School of Medicine , Charlottesville, Virginia.
3
3 Sections of General Medicine and Palliative Care, Department of Medicine, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, University of Virginia School of Medicine , Charlottesville, Virginia.

Abstract

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.

KEYWORDS:

bereavement; provider self-care

PMID:
28099046
PMCID:
PMC5583556
DOI:
10.1089/jpm.2016.0481
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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