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::Dealing with relatives:: Dr Mahibur Rahman

What to say.

Honesty is one of the factors that relatives values the most when dealing with doctors. They need the truth to make their personal adjustments and their plans. Make sure that you do not stray from the facts, and if you are unsure about something, NEVER make it up. Instead, offer to find out and leave the details with the ward staff, or arrange another meeting.

.and how to say it

At all times, be polite and patient. Remember that the family will be under great strain. Explain things in language that the relatives can understand, avoiding medical jargon as much as possible. The relatives are much more likely to understand "your father has had a stroke", than "the CT scan has shown an ischaemic CVA". Where the family have a grievance about anything do not be defensive and never raise your voice - this will make the situation worse. An apology a day keeps the lawyers away.

Say it again, Sam

You may have to explain things more than once, and relatives sometimes have their own ideas about what is going on. Allow them to air their concerns. Always ask if they would like you to go over anything, and offer them a chance to ask questions. The wording of this is very important - saying "is there anything I haven't explained clearly?" is better than "is there anything you didn't understand?". Although having essentially the same meaning, the first does not demean the relatives in any way, where the second might be taken as an insult to their intelligence.

And in the end.

Finally, leave a means of contact if they want to follow up your discussion - this can be by leaving a message with the ward clerk or a member of the nursing team, or via your pager (only give this out if you genuinely don't mind relatives bleeping you - it is usually better to call them so that you are properly prepared for any conversation).

You will find that family members are often very grateful for the time you take to discuss their relative's care. And doing this well will give a huge boost your job satisfaction.

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