Would You Send A Survey To A Dead Person?

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Ever heard of Tig Notaro? If not, she’s a comedian who I first heard about on This American Life. www.ThisAmericanLife.org and yes, I realize I write too many blog posts about stuff I’ve heard on this radio show.


On This American Life episode #474, Tig’s story is the kick off to the show. Now, I already liked her comedy, but this story wasn’t of her upbringing or how she broke into the comedy biz or anything like that. In fact, it examined the last four months of her life. This short 15 minute segment has about a half a million points to blog about. I’m going to focus on one or two. Here’s a quick synopsis of Tig’s story from This American Life:


Tig was in the hospital with C. Dif. If you’re not familiar, this is a horrible infection where bacteria start eating one’s innards. It can be deadly. Luckily, in Tig’s case, it was not. But, it did lead to losing 25 lbs. in a very short amount of time and, as soon as she got out of the hospital, she got pneumonia. Rough enough, right?


Then, as she was recovering from the C. Dif and pneumonia, her mother falls, hits her head, is brain dead and dies. When it rains, it pours. After the funeral, Tig’s late mother receives (get this” a survey about her hospital stay. This is where I want to focus this blog post, but let me give you the rest of the story of Tig, first…


After her mother’s funeral and receiving the survey, Tig is diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Double mastectomy. Horrible events. In the midst of all this, her significant other dumps her, being unable to deal with the fact Tig has cancer. Tig cannot win for losing. But, two days after getting diagnosed, she is on stage again. She doesn’t know she’s in for a double mastectomy, she doesn’t know what the future holds, but she is on stage, doing her thing. Louis CK, one of America’s best known comedians, called Tig’s performance one of the best he’s ever witnessed. You can hear it on his web site:




Obviously, Tig has guts. Obviously, she’s naturally funny. But getting up to do a performance hours after being diagnosed with cancer probably, to her, seemed like the normal thing to do. I stand in awe of this woman for not slitting her wrists. Anyway, back to the survey…


The survey, remember that? Sent to her now deceased mother about her hospital stay? Any rational person knows that a hospital survey is as generic as black and white labeled salt. They just send them out to anyone who’s been a patient. The usual questions, “Was the hospital staff attentive to your needs?, “Was the area around your room quiet at night so you could sleep?” “Anything we can do to improve?” Standard operating procedure, right? Any family member who receives one of these after the death of a loved one is, whether he or she admits it, probably a little insulted. Should hospitals take better care than to send out generic surveys? For those who are deceased, this is a “Duh!” answer. For other patients? Depends, I guess.


In Tig’s case, this wasn’t a welcome piece of mail. Her mom is dead. She was brain dead while she was in the hospital, so the questions don’t even apply. Hospitals who send out these surveys probably have their hearts in the right places, wanting to better the patient experience based on patient feedback. I just think there’s a better way to gather qualifiable data than to send a generic eval.


In cases like this, where a patient actually dies, wouldn’t it be better for the hospital to give a call and ask the family of the deceased about their experience?


From the hospital’s point of view, they probably don’t want to do this. Why? Because what if the surviving family member unloads on the surveyor? What if (gasp!) the hospital did something wrong (malpractice or medical mistakes) that led to the patient’s demise? What if the surviving family member monopolizes the surveyor’s time and keeps the hospital employee on the phone for an hour? To all these things, I say…do it any way. Just be sure the hospital employee delivering this survey via phone is trained in communication and crisis management from an interpersonal perspective. Maybe even have a LPC or a social worker deliver this survey. Either way, what Tig experienced is NOT the correct way to handle things.


If health care institutions want to truly get an idea of how they are doing professionally, we have to get away from thinking we’re going to gather this info from a generic survey. We need to roll up our sleeves and be willing to get dirty, emotionally and mentally, from the personal information we receive.


And, if you want to discover more about Tig Notaro, here’s her site:








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  • Hilda Fair

    My better half’s mother died January 7, 2011, we just received a noticed that she needs to book a date and time for her mammogram, so he politely called them and the lady answering the phone wanted to know why he even called. he replied, so you can take her name off your mailing list. She replied we need the death certificate. He replied since she died at your hospital it should be in your system and hung up.

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