As a doctor, how do you avoid the possibility of assault by angry relatives of a deceased patient? What should we do if such a situation does occur?

Male doctor discussing with his patients in waiting room

This is assuming that there was nothing the doctor could have done to save the patient’s life. This is quite common here, in India

The key is to communicate well with the patient and the family, keeping them informed about the condition of the patient, the plan of treatment and likely outcome. However, I admit sometimes it is unavoidable. I remember operating of an old man with a perforated duodenal ulcer with heart disease who came to the emergency in shock. He was accompanied by his nephew who was the only person he could contact. I discussed the risk with the patient and the nephew and went ahead with the surgery. He was unstable and was shifted to the ventilator in the ICU the next day. The daughter arrived 3 days after the surgery (by which time he was off the ventilator but still in the ICU). She accused me of having operated on her father without due consent and without having explained the cost to her. I pointed out that she had not been around when he came to the hospital and that my discussion had been with the family member accompanying him to hospital. However, she had apparently already worked herself into a rage and became angrier and angrier. One of my nurses had noticed what was going on and had strategically positioned herself behind the lady so that when she finally got to the point where she tried to assault me, she was ready to grab her hands from behind. However, I agree, sometimes an assault does happen. It is done under stress and blaming the family is not a useful strategy. The patient in question did eventually recover and go home. The only thing to be done is to call security early rather than after the assault has happened. I suppose punishment of the family member committing the assault may be a deterrent in the same manner as the disproportionate punishment meted out to anyone assaulting a policeman in the US is a deterrent but I must admit it would be a politically unviable move in India today.