Family Communication – Post Death

If a patient dies while family members are absent, one hopes the passing was peaceful.

Yet, one wonders – who pronounced the patient’s death and how was this done? Who called the family and how was the family informed of this on the telephone? Did somebody greet the family when they came into the hospital? How were condolences offered and how was the family consoled and counseled?

It would be a mistake to view these as bureaucratic details. How these issues are addressed may leave lasting impressions on the bereaved. Sadly, this important and sensitive work is too often relegated to the most junior clinicians such as interns, who have had little or no training as to how to do it skillfully (Hallenbeck 1999,Marchand 2004).

Suggestions for telephone notification of death are presented below.

Telephone Notification of Death

Inquire as to where the person is and whether alone (if driving while on a cell phone, advise the person to pull over and park).
Identify self, relationship to the deceased (physician on-call), give brief advanced alert (“I’m sorry I have some bad news”), and then give the news.
Listen more than you speak; if questions arise, answer them briefly; for more detailed inquiries, reassure the caller that these can be answered later.
Do NOT say that the person must come in right away – give permission to let feelings settle; suggest coming in with a family member or friend.
Give clear instructions as to where to go and whom to contact (the caller or charge nurse) when arriving at the hospital.
Finish with an empathetic statement, such as, “This must be very hard for you. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to help.”

Telephone Call Script Sample

Condolence Letter Sample


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