08 May 2012


One of a doctor's most difficult jobs is to notify someone of the death of a loved one. Death notification is of particular relevance to ER doctors. The death of those who are pronounced dead in the emergency department (such as those brought in by ambulance) is often sudden and unexpected. The act of notifying the family is difficult for all of those involved.

A textbook on emergency medicine, Tintinalli's, devotes a chapter to grief, death, and dying. I found one of the paragraphs uplifting:
There are data which demonstrate that properly performed death notifications may mitigate the impact of substantial negative effects on the surviving family members. For example, well-delivered death notification may reduce the incidence of PTSD in sudden death, particularly those involving the loss of a spouse or the death of a child. As emergency physicians, we must begin to think of death notification not as a difficult conclusion to an already difficult case but as an opportunity for prevention: reducing the incidence of secondary trauma to the family by the way in which they learn of a death.
In helping families confront death, the physician has an opportunity heal the living.