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Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Question from Road: Sympathy Card? Funeral?

Website: November 3, 2011 Doug Wojcieszak, Founder & Spokesperson Contact phone/e-mail address: 618-559-8168;

QUESTIONS FROM THE ROAD: SYMPATHY CARD? FUNERAL? After two recent presentations in New York City and Tulsa, OK, I received questions about sympathy cards and attending funerals. These nice, well-meaning docs, who wouldn't hesitate to send a card or attend a wake for a neighbor, were confused and perplexed about what to do with patients and families --- especially if family might be angry!

Answer: In almost every situation, send the card. Attend the wake or funeral. Be there for the family at their most desperate time. If you send a card, write a short personal note, and consider including your phone number with an offer to call anytime or visit. If you attend the wake or funeral, leave your business card with a family member and write on the back "please call anytime." Let them know the door is always open!

In a way it's sad that docs have to ask if it's a good idea to send a card or attend a service, but not unexpected. The entire med-mal debate has stoked such unreasonable fear that even simple human acts of compassion have become fear-laden. At Sorry Works! we are trying to take away the scare factor by telling docs being human post- event/following a death is the best way to go --- including in the legal sense!

"Oh, Doug, how can you talk about sympathy cards and legalities in the same sentence?"

Because I know the streets I'm walking down, and I'm trying to be fair, reasonable, and practical to all sides (patients, families, and docs). And, if we're going to be fair, we must acknowledge that docs conduct their daily business in a high- risk environment. Make no mistake, most acts of compassion such as a card or attending a service are almost always met with positive responses by family members and help both sides with healing (including our docs). You should always be compassionate --- no question about it! However, my advice to those docs in Tulsa and NYC included a suggestion to copy the sympathy card and appropriately file away the copy. Remember, we document everything! Also remember who I am....I lost my oldest brother to medical errors, so I always want disclosure and for patients and families to be treated fairly....but I work with docs and nurses every day on this disclosure issue, and I know that docs and nurses aren't always the unethical actors when it comes to adverse events and malpractice. Unfortunately, patients and families can be unfair, unreasonable, and even greedy. At the minimum, docs should build good evidence in the disclosure process to protect themselves. It's only fair! Be empathetic, be compassionate, and document!

After my NYC presentation, I spoke with another doc - a senior physician in the hospital - about the funeral issue, and he said he had attended many patient funerals and always encouraged colleagues to do the same. The doc admitted there is no guarantee as far as the type of reception a physician will receive from family members, but, more often times than not, the simple of act of showing act is warmly received by most family members. The senior doc went onto say that some of his colleagues excuse themselves out of funerals or even sympathy cards with the standard excuse "I'm too busy." His response: "Get less busy." Good advice!

Final note, don't forget to register for our upcoming November 15th webinar covering everything you need to know about disclosure. Led by Sorry Works! Founder Doug Wojcieszak, this webinar is a can't miss event. Sign up today by visiting this registration link:


- Doug

Doug Wojcieszak, Founder Sorry Works! PO Box 531 Glen Carbon, IL 62034 618-559-8168 (direct dial)