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Postgraduate Education Corner: MEDICAL WRITING TIPS |

A Dying Art?: The Doctor’s Letter of Condolence

Gregory C. Kane, MD, FCCP
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*From the Department of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, PA.

Correspondence to: Gregory C. Kane, MD, FCCP, Jefferson Medical College, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Jefferson University Hospital, 1025 Walnut St, No. 805, Philadelphia, PA 19107-5083; e-mail: gregory.kane@jefferson.edu



Chest. 2007;131(4):1245-1247. doi:10.1378/chest.06-2948
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In this era of instant communication through text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, and cellular phones, personal communications, particularly handwritten notes or personal letters, are becoming quite rare. These technological advances in communications may, ironically, be contributing to the demise of various forms of communication, including the doctor’s letter of condolence.1 Writing a letter of condolence rarely occurs when a patient dies. This is unfortunate, as we are losing an opportunity to enhance our contact with the loved ones of the recently deceased, and as a result we are distancing ourselves further from those whom we serve. Surprisingly, medical textbooks or journals rarely devote pages to this final act of kindness, and may be contributing to the demise of such letters.2 In this article, I will review the literature on the doctor’s letter of condolence as well as calls from those who have proposed that we not abandon this practice. While some physicians have sent letters of condolence, many have not, yet it can be argued that this simple gesture may afford the bereaved great consolation.

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