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Right arrow Articles by Kaul, R. E.
Right arrow Articles by Kaul, R. E.
Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention 1:101-114 (2001)
© 2001 Oxford University Press

Coordinating the Death Notification Process: The Roles of the Emergency Room Social Worker and Physician Following a Sudden Death

   Rachel E. Kaul, MSW

The Department of Social Work, University of Michigan Hospitals

Contact author: Rachel E. Kaul, MSW, Department of Social Work, University of Michigan Hospitals, Room D2202, MPB, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109. E-mail: rekaul{at}

Unexpected deaths resulting from motor vehicle accidents, cardiac arrest, violence, and trauma are the number one killers for persons under 37 years of age. Many of these deaths occur while the patient is en route to the hospital, or while being treated in the emergency room. Traumatic deaths are particularly devastating to family members left behind. Developing a protocol for the death notification process in the emergency room in which the social worker coordinates the process can address challenges and obstacles for staff and family faced with an unexpected death. The notification of survivors following the sudden death of a loved one in an emergency room presents unique difficulties for staff. Barriers to supportive death notification in the emergency room include lack of time and resources available to staff, the absence of formal training for staff in death notification, and the lack of clear, consistent guidelines and protocols. This article discusses two established death notification models and argues for adopting a role-specific approach to the process. A collaborative reinterpretation of these models highlighting the role of the social worker and incorporating a crisis intervention model is presented. The purpose of this is to overcome barriers in the emergency department to providing an effective and meaningful response to people experiencing tragic and sudden loss.

KEY WORDS: death notification, social work, sudden death, crisis intervention, emergency room, physician, trauma

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