Monday, September 24, 2018

Death Notification Problems (Research, Video 1:44)

“We regret to inform you of the death of _______.” If the last word in that statement is the name of your loved one, you are about to be impacted by a death. Death notifications can affect not only the grief experience of loved ones, but also the well-being of physicians who were involved in the death. That’s why the delivery of this information warrants great care. Unfortunately, too many places have no standard procedure for making death notification phone calls.

Efforts were made in this research on procedures for making death notification phone calls to rectify this situation by using 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. All internal medicine (IM) residents at the university conducting the research institution completed the survey. These were the results:

1) Eighty percent of residents felt inadequately trained for this task. Over 25% reported that calls went poorly.

2) Attendings (an attending physician or surgeon) were involved in 17% of cases. Primary care physicians were not involved at all.

3) Nurses and chaplains were not involved.

4) Respondents never delayed notification of death until family arrived at the hospital.

5) 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.

Imagine how the poor communication listed above could potentially complicate grief for surviving loved ones and create stress among physicians. Clearly, more training is needed and could be combined along with training in disclosure of medical error.

Regarding errors related to death notifications, the case featured in the video below is an example of a worst-case scenario. What if loved ones are notified about a deceased person who really hasn’t died? This actually happened to a family that was told their grandmother had died at a hospital in Brooklyn, New York City.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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