Death notification in the emergency department: a survey of residents and attending physicians

L A Swisher, L Z Nieman, G J Nilsen, W H Spivey
Annals of Emergency Medicine 1993, 22 (8): 1319-23

STUDY OBJECTIVE: To delineate the topics discussed with families during the death notification process and to identify which of these topics are stressful to the physician. Also, the survey served as a needs assessment in designing an educational program for emergency medicine residents in death notification.

DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS: Forty-five residents and 20 attendings physicians in emergency medicine at the Medical College of Pennsylvania were given an anonymous, self-administered, 47-item questionnaire seeking demographic information and assessing topics discussed during notification, perceived importance to the family of these topics, and the stressfulness of these topics.

RESULTS: One hundred percent of the participants responded to the survey. Hospital care, prehospital care, and cause of death were most often discussed with the family, although no topic was discussed 100% of the time by all physicians. Those items that may be perceived as emotionally charged, such as organ donation and autopsy, were rated as more stressful and were less frequently addressed during notification.

CONCLUSION: Factual information is discussed most often, and emotional issues are considered most stressful. Therefore, a program in death notification must address those issues that must be handled during a notification and provide mechanisms for residents to feel comfortable with emotional responses from the family.

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