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October 1986

Physicians' and the Public's Attitudes on Communication About Death

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Psychiatry and Medicine, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center (Drs R. Viswanathan and Clark), and the Department of Pediatrics, Long Island College Hospital (Dr K. Viswanathan), Brooklyn.

Arch Intern Med. 1986;146(10):2029-2033. doi:10.1001/archinte.1986.00360220199032

• We studied the preferences of physicians and the public as to how physicians should inform a family of a patient's unexpected death. When the family had to be reached by telephone, 72% of our 150 physician-respondents preferred telling the family that the patient was critically ill and asking the family to come to the hospital immediately (critical notification [CN]); 25% of the physicians preferred announcing the death over the telephone (death notification [DN]). When the news had to be announced in person, 58% of physicians preferred immediately announcing it (IA), and 33% preferred gradual announcement (GA). A Gallup poll commissioned by us showed that 64% of the adult population in the United States preferred CN, 26% DN, 79% IA, and 17% GA; CN and IA were preferred in all the demographic subgroups examined. We discuss our findings, the reasons for them, and their ethical and practical implications.

(Arch Intern Med 1986;146:2029-2033)

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