Doctors should not shy away from writing letters of condolence to the next of kin when a patient dies, according to an article in the latest Medical Journal of Australia.
In an increasingly litigious society, some doctors may be wary of penning a condolence letter to a deceased patient's family, says Dr Roger Allen, a thoracic and sleep physician at the Wesley Medical Centre in Brisbane.
'Letters can be dangerous in the hands of lawyers, but surely not the simple letter of condolence,' Dr Allen says.
'Such letters from doctors are now infrequent. People are expected to 'get over it' in a matter of weeks.'
However, Dr Allen says there are several good reasons to send written condolences when a patient dies.
"The first reason is that it is simply a decent, tangible thing to convey ... sympathies in writing to the next of kin and show that the patient was not just a 'file' or a Medicare item number,' he says.
'The second reason is for myself as a sort of closure on what may have been a long and pleasant relationship with not only the patient but also the family and friends.
Other reasons are to 'set a tone for the practice' and to give practice staff a sense of closure, and to ensure that the patient's file is kept up to date with the details of his or her death, Dr Allen says.
'I write this article for all doctors, but most of all for those who are just entering the profession,' he adds.
'The fact that we (doctors) do not (write condolence letters) reflects on us a profession and on our training, which seems to undervalue the human side of medicine and over-emphasises, to our detriment, the reductionist, scientific nature of death and suffering,' he says.
He says perhaps such letters are too confronting for doctors as they may think, wrongly, that they might have failed.