Family grief in the emergency department

D T Walters, J P Tupin
Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America 1991, 9 (1): 189-206
Emergency physicians frequently face death, yet many are unprepared to deal with the family survivors of a patient who has died unexpectedly. Without the benefit of establishing prior rapport with the family, the emergency physician must anticipate the family's grief response so that he or she can intervene to avoid an unnecessarily prolonged or morbid grief reaction. Factors predisposing to a pathologic grief response in the death of a spouse or of an infant or child must be recognized, and the physician's power to assuage survivor guilt should be used. Certain key actions in the process of notifying survivors, viewing the body, concluding the emergency department visit, and following up after the patient's death help facilitate survivor grief in the least traumatic way possible. Emergency Departments can improve their dealing with death by instituting a team approach using doctors, nurses, social workers, and clergy to better support family members in their emergency department experience and to provide a link with community service organizations helpful to the family after they leave the hospital.

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