Doctors unequipped for bereaved outreach

Oct. 3, 2011 at 11:54 PM
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SEATTLE, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Most U.S. cancer physicians say they reach out to bereaved family members but two-thirds feel poorly trained in this area, researchers suggest.

Dr. Aaron S. Kusano, a radiation oncology resident at the University of Washington School of Medicine in

Seattle, said researchers have only recently begun to look at actual physician practices following a patient's death.

An anonymous online survey was completed by 162 attending radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, surgical oncologists and palliative care physicians directly involved in patient care last year, Kusano said.

Seventy percent of cancer physicians routinely engaged in at least one bereavement activity that they initiated, such as sending a condolence letter, making a telephone call to the family or attending a funeral service following a patient's death.

Ninety percent of the respondents who did not initiate bereavement follow-up, would routinely be available for phone conversations if called by a patient's family, the survey said.

"In particular with cancer, there has been a movement to encourage physician involvement throughout the course of disease, including after a patient's passing," Kusano said in a statement. "The empathy in physicians dedicated to cancer care doesn't translate into an inherent ability to lead difficult conversations or comfortably express grief."

The findings were presented at the 53rd annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.

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