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The Physician's Role in the Events Surrounding Patient Death

Susan W. Tolle, MD; Donald E. Girard, MD
Arch Intern Med. 1983;143(7):1447-1449. doi:10.1001/archinte.1983.00350070167025.
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Recent literature on death and dying has resulted in more open discussions among terminally ill patients, physicians, and family about death and the process of dying. Unfortunately, there is little available information addressing the physician's role during the period surrounding patient death.1-3 Few medical faculty members have observed a house officer pronounce a patient dead and communicate the news to the family. Rarely are medical students encouraged to be involved in the process. Yet it is likely that inexperience increases anxiety for the young physician, who is left to develop, primarily through personal experience, his or her own practices at the time of the patient's death. Finally, because there is little direction in these matters, the emotional needs of the family are likely to be inadequately met.

We provide data herein from Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital, Portland, from deaths among its adult inpatients—including location of death, service assignment


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