The Expected Role of the Anesthesiologist in Delivering Bad News

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During a recent oral board review session, a group of anesthesiology residents and attending physicians reviewed a case in which a patient died in the operating room (OR). After a discussion of the factors that led to the patient’s death, a potentially controversial point was raised: must the anesthesiologist communicate with the patient’s family after a patient death? The senior attending who was leading the review session stated that the anesthesiologist should always speak with the family of the deceased. This attending worked for several years as an emergency medicine physician and was experienced at delivering tragic news to family members. He asserted that the anesthesiologist leads the code situation, and as the leader, he or she should join the surgeon in delivering the news to family members. The absence of either the anesthesiologist or the surgeon might be viewed as a tacit admission of guilt, or worse, a wanton disregard for the significance of the event. He stated that the anesthesiologist should be present to convey to the family exactly how the situation developed, what interventions took place, and that everything was done to save their loved one’s life in a safe, efficient manner.
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