This site is intended for health professionals only

Hospital communication helps families recover from deaths

Hospitals that communicate effectively with people whose loved ones die in intensive care can help to cut their risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, say researchers.

A multicentre trial showed that a 30-minute conference with the patient's physician and in-depth bereavement literature can substantially lower a person's risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bereavement booklet describes end-of-life care, possible reactions to death of a loved one, how to communicate the death with other people and where to seek assistance.

The trial included family members of 126 patients dying in intensive care units in France.

"The huge effect of the intervention is surprising," says researcher Ellie Azoulay (Hospital Saint-Louis, Paris).

She adds: "We cannot compare our levels of family symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome with those from other countries.

"We are looking forward to conducting international comparative studies or to comparing these symptoms with those from other countries."

She says that family and friends of dying patients need to be told of the causes and timing of the patient's death, the amount of care they will receive and data about life-sustaining treatment.

"The patient must be comfortable at all times and family and friends must be given opportunities to express emotions and to voice concerns in a private place," she concludes.

American Thoracic Society