• 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)