What to do when your patient dies

Over the years, many people have shared with me their disappointment at the lack of acknowledgment from their physician when their loved one died. Especially, when their loved one had been a long time patient of the physician. In fact, many people have shared that they switched physicians because of what they perceived as a slight.

When people go to a physician for many years, especially the family physician, it is not unusual to feel a real bond with that physician and staff. Think about it, medical people are involved in some of the most intimate times in a person’s life. They are there when babies are born, when your kids get raised, when loved ones are diagnosed with terrible illnesses and yes, when people die. So, it makes sense to me that when a patient dies, some acknowledgment should be made by the physician and or his or her staff to the family.

I also think hospitals should have protocols in place to acknowledge the death of patients in their facilities. Many hospitals send congratulations on the births that take place in their delivery units, why would you not note something on the opposite end of that spectrum.

At a time when health care seems less and less personal to patients some simple, but thoughtful gestures of concern and sympathy can let patients know that you really care about them and their families.

Here are some things a medical practice could consider:

  • Have a policy in place as to how you are going to acknowledge the death of one of your patients.
  • Sending a hand written note from the physician and staff would be greatly appreciated.
  • A token floral arrangement is another option.
  • Send a representative from your office to the calling at the funeral home.
  • Follow up with a phone call after a short period of time to the surviving family member if they are your patient.
  • Hospitals could send a personalized letter of condolence to the family. No generic form letters for this situation.

Reach out and let your patients know that you care. I guarantee they will appreciate it.

I have had several dogs over the past years and when any of them died we got a heartfelt sympathy note from our vet. I think people deserve the same from their physicians.

Karen Hickman is founder, Professional Courtesy and trains health care workers in professional courtesy essentials.  

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