Contacting bereaved relatives: the views and practices of palliative care and oncology health care professionals

Silke Collins-Tracey*, Josephine M. Clayton, Laura Kirsten, Phyllis N. Butow, Martin H N Tattersall, Richard Chye

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


There are few data on the interactions of health care professionals with bereaved relatives. The objective of this study was to explore the current practice of health care professionals in oncology and palliative care in contacting bereaved relatives, and to elicit, their views regarding the purpose, the optimal means, the formal, timing, and content of these contacts. We conducted 28 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with health care professionals in Australia working in palliative care and oncology. The interviews we're audiotaped and transcribed. Further interviews were conducted until no additional themes were raised. The narratives were analyzed using qualitative methodology. Most participants were in favor of contacting bereaved relatives after the death of a patient they had cared for. Some barriers to implementing these contacts were identified, including time constraints, institutional factors, and personal barriers. Contacts ranged from a personal phone call to a standardized letter. Timing of contacts varied from immediately after the death of the patient to several weeks later. Participants used words and phrases in these contacts that, ranged from personal and individualized messages to standard phrases. Health care professionals emphasized the importance of contacting bereaved relatives after the death of a patient for whom they had cared. The format and content Of current contacts vary widely, and there does not seem, to be a gold standard approach. This area has been relatively unexplored and lacks adequate models for health care professionals. This study provides some insight into current practice and hopes to facilitate further discussion of this topic. J Pain Symptom Manage 2009;37:807-822. (C) 2009 U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-822
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Palliative care
  • oncology
  • bereavement
  • bereaved relatives
  • health care professionals
  • communication
  • professional-family relations
  • condolence
  • empathy

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