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Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life
September 19, 2001

Caring for Bereaved Patients: "All the Doctors Just Suddenly Go"

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Departments of Psychiatry (Drs Prigerson and Jacobs) and Epidemiology and Public Health (Dr Prigerson), Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.


Perspectives on Care at the Close of Life Section Editor: Margaret A. Winker, MD, Deputy Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2001;286(11):1369-1376. doi:10.1001/jama.286.11.1369

Despite the frequency with which physicians encounter bereaved patients, medical training offers little guidance in the provision of bereavement ("after") care. Physicians are often uncertain of how to distinguish between normal and pathological grief reactions in their bereaved patients, and how to manage their health care. Bereavement is associated with declines in health, inappropriate health service use, and increased risk of death. Identifying and intervening on behalf of bereaved patients could help address those increased risks. We examine the experience of a woman widowed for 2 years to illustrate distinctions between symptoms and outcomes of uncomplicated and complicated grief, recommend approaches to physician interactions with bereaved patients, and offer guidelines for professional intervention in aftercare.