This insightful study examines the deeply personal and heart-wrenching tensions among financial considerations, emotional attachments, and moral arguments that motivate end-of-life decisions.
America’s health care system was built on the principle that life should be prolonged whenever possible, regardless of the costs. This commitment has often meant that patients spend their last days suffering from heroic interventions that extend their life by only weeks or months. Increasingly, this approach to end-of-life care is coming under scrutiny, from a moral as well as a financial perspective. Sociologist Roi Livne documents the rise and effectiveness of hospice and palliative care, and growing acceptance of the idea that a life consumed by suffering may not be worth living.
Values at the End of Life combines an in-depth historical analysis with an extensive study conducted in three hospitals, where Livne observed terminally ill patients, their families, and caregivers negotiating treatment. Livne describes the ambivalent, conflicted moments when people articulate and act on their moral intuitions about dying. Interviews with medical staff allowed him to isolate the strategies clinicians use to help families understand their options. As Livne discovered, clinicians are advancing the idea that invasive, expensive hospital procedures often compound a patient’s suffering. Affluent, educated families were more readily persuaded by this moral calculus than those of less means.
Once defiant of death—or even in denial—many American families and professionals in the health care system are beginning to embrace the notion that less treatment in the end may be better treatment.
Durant les trois dernières décennies, l’évolution des prises en charge médicales et la réorganisation de notre système de santé ont totalement modifié les rapports entre les professionnels de santé, les patients et leurs proches. La demande de participation des patients à la démarche de soins a été croissante, posant la question de la liberté de choix des malades et questionnant de plus en plus les domaines où celle-ci serait niée.
Twenty percent of Americans die in an intensive care unit (ICU), often incapacitated or requiring assisted decision making. Surrogates are often required to make urgent, complex, high-stakes decisions. Communication among patients, families, and clinicians is often delayed and inefficient with frequent missed opportunities to support the emotional and psychological needs of surrogates, particularly at the end of life. The Critical Care Nurse Communicator program is a nurse-led, primary palliative care intervention designed to improve the quality and consistency of communication in the ICU and address the informational, psychological, and emotional needs of surrogate decision-makers through the shared decision-making process.
Hispanic Americans are among the fastest growing minority groups in the USA, and understanding their preferences for medical decision-making and information sharing is imperative to provide high quality end of life care. Studies exploring these decision control preferences (DCPs) are limited and found inconsistent results. (1) To measure DCPs of Hispanic patients in the Bronx. (2) To measure disclosure of information preferences of Hispanic patients in the Bronx. This is a cross-sectional survey. One hundred nineteen cancer patients who self-identified as Hispanic and were waiting at the oncology clinic at Montefiore Medical Center Cancer Center. Proportions of patients endorsing DCPs and disclosure of information preferences are reported. The relationship between patient characteristics and DCPs was tested using chi-squared tests of homogeneity. The majority (63, 52.9%) preferred shared decision-making with their doctors, families or both, while 46 (38.7%) had an active decision-making style. A minority (9, 7.6%) had a passive decision-making style, deferring to their families, and only 1 (0.8%) deferring to the physician. No demographic characteristics significantly predicted DCPs. The majority of patients agreed or strongly agreed that they wanted to hear all of the information regarding their diagnosis (94%), treatment options (94%), treatment expectations (92%), and treatment risks and benefits (96%). These results confirm our hypothesis that most Hispanic patients prefer either an active or shared decision-making process rather than a passive decision-making process. Most patients prefer disclosure of diagnosis, prognosis, and plan.
BACKGROUND: Cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease for children in the United States. It is imperative to optimize measures to support patients and families facing the end of a child's life. This study asked bereaved parents to reflect on their child's end-of-life care to identify which components of decision-making, supportive services, and communication were helpful, not helpful, or lacking.
METHODS: An anonymous survey about end-of-life experiences was sent to families of children treated at a single institution who died of a malignancy between 2010 and 2017.
RESULTS: Twenty-eight surveys were returned for a 30.8% response rate. Most of the bereaved parents (61%) reported a desire for shared decision-making; this was described by 52% of families at the end of their child's life. There was a statistically significant association between how well death went and whether the parental perception of actual decision-making aligned with desired decision-making (P = .002). Families did not utilize many of the supportive services that are available including psychology and psychiatry (only 22% used). Respondents felt that additional services would have been helpful.
CONCLUSIONS: Health care providers should strive to participate in decision-making models that align with the preferences of the patient and family and provide excellent communication. Additional resources to support families following the death of a child should be identified for families or developed and funded if a gap in available services is identified.
Alonso was a 10-year-old boy with a recurrent, re-fractory brain tumor whose disease progressed through multiple therapies over many years. When no additional cancer-directed options remained, Alonso was admitted tothe hospital for symptom management as he approached the end of his life. Although Alonso was unresponsive and posturing, his family continued to hope desperately for a miracle. As they kept vigil around the bedside of his frail body, praying and waiting, they gradually began to notice—and then fixate on—how the sharp angle of his bones protruded more with each passing day.
Advance care planning enables parents to discuss goals and preferences for future care and treatment of their seriously ill child. Although clinicians report parental factors as common barriers for advance care planning, parental views on reflecting on their child’s future have had limited exploration. A clear understanding of their perspectives might help clinicians to implement advance care planning tailored to parental needs. This interpretive qualitative study using thematic analysis aims to identify how parents envision the future when caring for their seriously ill child. Single interviews and two focus groups were attended by 20 parents of 17 seriously ill children. Parents reported to focus on the near future of their child. However, their actions and deeper thoughts showed perspectives towards a further future. Future perspectives initial focused on practical, disease-related themes, but more existential elaborations, reflecting underlying life values, were also identified. Parents needed acknowledgement of their challenging situation, care tasks, and expertise as a precondition for sharing their deepest thoughts regarding the future of their child.
Conclusion: When envisioning the future of their seriously ill child, parents tend to stay in the near future, whereas they value the opportunity to share further thoughts within a compassionate relationship with clinicians.
OBJECTIVES: The 2014 Court of Appeals decision with respect to Tracey vs Cambridge University Hospital ('the Tracey judgement') changed the requirements for discussing Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) decisions with patients. This study is a retrospective case note review aiming to identify any changes in practice around discussing DNACPR decisions in hospices following the judgement.
METHODS: 150 case notes from 2013 (before the Tracey judgement) were compared with 150 case notes from 2015 (following the Tracey judgement). These notes came from five hospices in the West Midlands. The notes were analysed to determine if the judgement resulted in changes to how frequently DNACPR decisions were discussed with patients and their families, as well as whether there were any changes in the documentation of reasons for not discussing such decisions.
RESULTS: Discussions with patients around DNACPR decisions increased from 31% to 60% and with relatives from 29% to 59% following the Tracey judgement. Prior to the judgement the most frequently documented reason for not discussing was to avoid distress (23%), whereas after judgement it was patients lacking capacity to engage in such a discussion (40%). There was a lack of consistency and clarity in defining the concept of 'physical or psychological harm'.
CONCLUSIONS: Although DNACPR decisions are being discussed more frequently with patients and families following the Tracey judgement, clarity on what constitutes 'physical or psychological harm' caused by these discussions is still required. Future research must examine whether the judgement is delaying or preventing DNACPR decisions being made.
Nearly 20 years ago the EURONIC study reported that French neonatologists sometimes deemed it legitimate to terminate the lives of newborn infants when the prognosis appeared extremely poor. Parents were not always informed of these decisions. Major change has occurred since then and is described herein.
MATERIAL AND METHODS: A survey was conducted in the Île-de-France region, from 1 January to 31 January 2016. Professionals from 15 neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) were invited to complete a questionnaire.
RESULTS: A total of 702 questionnaires were collected and 670 responses were analyzed. Knowledge of the law differed according to professional status, with 71% of MDs (medical staff, MS), compared with 28% of nonmedical staff (NMS) declaring that they had good knowledge of the law. Most MDs and NMS believed that withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining treatments (WWLST) could be decided and implemented after a delay. Half of them thought that WWLST would always result in death. Although required by law, a consulting MD attended the collegial meeting required before deciding on WWLST in only half of the cases. Parents were almost always informed of the decision thereafter by the physician in charge of their infant. The most frequent disagreement with parents was observed when WWLST was the option selected. In this case, most professionals suggested postponing WWLST, continuing intensive care and dialogue with parents, aiming at a final shared decision. Major differences were observed between NICUs with regard to the withdrawal of artificial nutrition and hydration. Finally, 14% of MDs declared that infant active terminations of life still occurred in their NICU. Major differences concern WWLST and active termination of life, whose meaning has been partly modified since 2001.
CONCLUSION: Several major changes were observed in this survey: (1) treatment withdrawal decisions are made today in agreement with the law; (2) parents' information and involvement in the decision process have profoundly changed; (3) active termination of life (euthanasia) very rarely occurs; only at the end of a process in accordance with ethical principles and within the law is this decision made.
In recent years, increases in medical technologies in the critical care setting have advanced the practice of medicine, enabling patients to live longer while also creating dilemmas for end-of-life decision-making. Clinicians have increasingly been called on to involve patients and family members in decision-making through a process of shared decision-making (SDM), yet less is known about how SDM plays out in the critical care setting and the ways in which clinicians engage in SDM. Using observational data from 14 months of ethnographic fieldwork in two intensive care units and interviews with 33 family members of 25 critically ill patients and 51 clinicians, I explore how clinicians refer to the choices available in medical decision-making paradoxically as a 'buffet' of choice while they simultaneously recognise that such rhetoric is misaligned with complex and emotional decision-making, often involving pain and suffering. Lastly, this paper considers the role of SDM and the ways in which clinicians push back on the 'buffet' rhetoric and engage in practices to guide families in end-of-life decision-making by granting permission for families to make decisions and validating their decisions to decline treatment when there is an opportunity for more treatment.
Background: Palliative systematic treatment offers uncertain and often limited benefits, and the burden can be high. Hence, treatment decisions require shared decision making (SDM). This trial examined the independent and combined effect of an oncologist training and a patient communication aid on SDM.
Methods: In this multicenter randomized controlled trial with four parallel arms (2016–2018), oncologists (n = 31) were randomized to receive SDM communication skills training or not. The training consisted of a reader, two group sessions, a booster session, and a consultation room tool (10 hours). Patients (n = 194) with advanced cancer were randomized to receive a patient communication aid or not. The aid consisted of education on SDM, a question prompt list, and a value clarification exercise. The primary outcome was observed SDM as rated by blinded observers from audio-recorded consultations. Secondary outcomes included patient-reported SDM, patient and oncologist satisfaction, patients’ decisional conflict, patient quality of life 3 months after consultation, consultation duration, and the decision made.
Results: The oncologist training had a large positive effect on observed SDM (Cohen's d = 1.12) and on patient-reported SDM (d = 0.73). The patient communication aid did not improve SDM. The combination of interventions did not add to the effect of training oncologists only. The interventions affected neither patient nor oncologist satisfaction with the consultation nor patients’ decisional conflict, quality of life, consultation duration, or the decision made.
Conclusion: Training medical oncologists in SDM about palliative systemic treatment improves both observed and patient-reported SDM. A patient communication aid does not. The incorporation of skills training in (continuing) educational programs for medical oncologists is likely to stimulate the widely advocated uptake of shared decision making in clinical practice. Trial registration. Netherlands Trial Registry NTR 5489.
Implications for Practice: Treatment for advanced cancer offers uncertain and often small benefits, and the burden can be high. Hence, treatment decisions require shared decision making (SDM). SDM is increasingly advocated for ethical reasons and for its beneficial effect on patient outcomes. Few initiatives to stimulate SDM are evaluated in robust designs. This randomized controlled trial shows that training medical oncologists improves both observed and patient-reported SDM in clinical encounters (n = 194). A preconsultation communication aid for patients did not add to the effect of training oncologists. SDM training effectively changes oncologists’ practice and should be implemented in (continuing) educational programs.
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Critically ill patients require a careful approach for prognosis and decision-making. The German health legislation aims to strengthen the role of advance directives (ADs) and health-care proxies (HCPs). Their impact within a dedicated neurocritical care setting is unknown. This study aimed to assess the practice of withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining therapy (WOLST) in a German neurointensive care unit (NICU) focusing on whether AD or HCP is associated with timing and treatment intensity.
METHODS: Data on patients who died after WOLST at a dedicated NICU of a German university hospital, from 2010 to 2013, were retrospectively analyzed.
RESULTS: Of 400 deceased patients, 310 (77.5%) died after initiation of WOLST. Among them, 68 (21.9%) were identified to have AD or HCP or both (AD + HCP). WOLST patients with AD, HCP, or AD + HCP were older than those without (median age: 77 vs 72 years, P < .001) but did not show any other distinct baseline features. There was no difference in the specific neurocritical care measures between the groups. Poisson regression analysis showed no significant difference in the probability of time-dependent WOLST initiation between those with and without AD/HCP, after adjusting for age and sex (adjusted incidence rate ratio, 1.10; 95% confidence interval, 0.94-1.28; P = .244).
CONCLUSIONS: In this single-center study of mainly cerebrovascular NICU patients, AD or HCP was neither associated with an earlier WOLST nor associated with a difference in treatment intensity before WOLST. Further prospective studies should assess the emerging concept of advance care planning in neurocritical care.
Context: Increasing emphasis on patient-centered care has led to highlighted importance of shared decision making, which better aligns medical decisions with patient care preferences. Effective shared decision making in metastatic breast cancer (MBC) treatment requires prognostic understanding, without which patients may receive treatment inconsistent with personal preferences.
Objectives: To assess MBC patient and provider perspectives on the role of prognostic information in treatment decision making.
Methods: We conducted semi-structured interviews with MBC patients and community oncologists and separate focus groups involving lay navigators, nurses, and academic oncologists. Qualitative analysis utilized a content analysis approach that included a constant comparative method to generate themes.
Results: Of 20 interviewed patients with MBC, 30% were African American. Academic oncologists were mostly women (60%), community oncologists were all Caucasian, and nurses were all women and 28% African American. Lay navigators were all African American and predominately women (86%). Five emergent themes were identified. (1) Most patients wanted prognostic information but differed in when they wanted to have this conversation, (2) Emotional distress and discomfort was a critical reason for not discussing prognosis, (3) Religious beliefs shaped preferences for prognostic information, (4) Health care professionals differed on prognostic information delivery timing, and (5) Providers acknowledged that an individualized approach taking into account patient values and preferences would be beneficial.
Conclusion: Most MBC patients wanted prognostic information, yet varied in when they wanted this information. Understanding why patients want limited or unrestricted prognostic information can inform oncologists' efforts toward shared decision making.
Background: Communication in do not resuscitate (DNR) and artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) at the end of life is a key component of advance care planning (ACP) which is essential for patients with advanced cancer to have cares concordant with their wishes. The SOP model (Shared decision making with Oncologists and Palliative care specialists) aimed to increase the rate of documentation on the preferences for DNR and ANH in patients with advanced cancer.
Methods: The SOP model was implemented in a national cancer treatment center in Taiwan from September 2016 to August 2018 for patients with advanced cancer visiting the oncology outpatient clinic. The framework was based on the model of shared decision making as “choice talk” initiated by oncologists with “option talk” and “decision talk” conducted by palliative care specialists.
Results: Among 375 eligible patients, 255 patients (68%) participated in the model testing with the mean age of 68.5 ± 14.7 years (mean ± SD). Comparing to 52.3% of DNR documentation among patients with advanced cancer who died in our hospital, the rate increased to 80.9% (206/255) after the decision talk in our model. Only 6.67% (n = 17) of the participants documented their preferences on ANH after the model. A worse Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Performance Status was the only statistically significant associating factor with a higher rate of DNR documentation in the multiple logistic regression model.
Conclusions: The SOP model significantly increased the rate of DNR documentation in patients with advanced cancer in this pilot study. Dissemination of the model could help the patients to receive care that is concordant with their wishes and be useful for the countries having laws on ACP.
Background: Lack of awareness about the life-limiting nature of renal failure is a significant barrier to palliative care for older adults with end-stage renal disease.
Objective: To train nephrologists to use the best case/worst case (BC/WC) communication tool to improve shared decision making about dialysis initiation for older patients with limited life expectancy.
Design: This is a pre-/postinterventional pilot study.
Setting/Subjects: There were 16 nephrologists and 30 patients of age 70 years and older with estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) <20 mL/min per 1.73 m2 in outpatient nephrology clinics, in Madison, WI.
Measurements: Performance of tool elements, content of communication about dialysis, shared decision making, acceptability of the intervention, decisions to pursue dialysis, and palliative care referrals were measured.
Results: Fifteen of 16 nephrologists achieved competence performing the BC/WC tool with standardized patients, executing at least 14 of 19 items. Nine nephrologists met with 30 patients who consented to audio record their clinic visit. Before training, clinic visits focused on laboratory results and preparation for dialysis. After training, nephrologists noted that declining kidney function was “bad news,” presented dialysis and “no dialysis” as treatment options, and elicited patient preferences. Observer-measured shared decision-making (OPTION 5) scores improved from a median of 20/100 (interquartile range [IQR] 15–35) before training to 58/100 (IQR 55–65). Patients whose nephrologist used the BC/WC tool were less likely to make a decision to initiate dialysis and were more likely to be referred to palliative care.
Conclusions: Nephrologists can learn to use the BC/WC tool with older patients to improve shared decision making about dialysis, which may increase access to palliative care.
INTRODUCTION: Patients faced with incurable cancer may experience a lack of support from their physician throughout and after treatment. Studies on the needs and experiences of these patients are scarce. In this study, we explored the needs and experiences of patients diagnosed with incurable cancer regarding the conversation, in which they were told that their cancer was incurable, the care received after this conversation, and their preferences regarding end-of-life conversations.
METHODS: Data were cross-sectionally collected through a national online survey in the Netherlands (September 2018). Descriptive statistics and correlation coefficients were reported and subgroups were compared.
RESULTS: Six hundred fifty-four patients (mean age 60 years; 58% women) completed the survey. Patients were primarily diagnosed with breast cancer (22%) or a hematological malignancy (21%). Patients reported a strong need for emotional support during the conversation, in which they were told their cancer was incurable (mean score 8.3; scale 1-10). Their experienced satisfaction with received emotional support was mediocre (mean score 6.4; scale 1-10). Of those patients who felt like they did not receive any additional care (37%) after the diagnosis, the majority expressed a clear need for this kind of care (59%). Mostly, support pertained to psychosocial issues. Regarding conversations about the end of life, most patients (62%) expressed a need to discuss this topic, and preferred their healthcare provider to initiate this conversation.
CONCLUSION: Care for patients with incurable cancer can be further improved by tailoring conversations to specific needs and timely providing appropriate supportive care services.
Background: Shared decision-making at end of life (eol) requires discussions about goals of care and prioritization of length of life compared with quality of life. The purpose of the present study was to describe patient and oncologist discordance with respect to goals of care and to explore possible predictors of discordance.
Methods: Patients with metastatic cancer and their oncologists completed an interview at study enrolment and every 3 months thereafter until the death of the patient or the end of the study period (15 months). All interviewees used a 100-point visual analog scale to represent their current goals of care, with quality of life (scored as 0) and survival (scored as 100) serving as anchors. Discordance was defined as an absolute difference between patient and oncologist goals of care of 40 points or more.
Results: The study enrolled 378 patients and 11 oncologists. At baseline, 24% discordance was observed, and for patients who survived, discordance was 24% at their last interview. For patients who died, discordance was 28% at the last interview before death, with discordance having been 70% at enrolment. Dissatisfaction with eol care was reported by 23% of the caregivers for patients with discordance at baseline and by 8% of the caregivers for patients who had no discordance (p = 0.049; f = 0.20).
Conclusions: The data indicate the presence of significant ongoing oncologist–patient discordance with respect to goals of care. Early use of a simple visual analog scale to assess goals of care can inform the oncologist about the patient’s goals and lead to delivery of care that is aligned with patient goals.
Background: Clinicians at the bedside regularly encounter surprises or unexpected clinical developments that carry emotional, social, or moral overtones-especially when death is anticipated or when patients are particularly vulnerable. In such circumstances, clinicians may struggle to find practical clarity in making treatment plans that honor their fiduciary (literally, "entrusted") duty to uphold equitably the ethical principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, patient autonomy, and justice.
Methods: We present the case of a patient who appeared to be actively dying and received an indwelling urinary catheter for the purpose of ensuring comfort. However, it led to an unintended reversal of renal failure and exacerbation of underlying psychiatric disease. This led to a meaningful change in the patient's prognosis. It also created pragmatic challenges to shared decision making, which required an intentional interdisciplinary approach to balancing beneficence and patient autonomy. Conclusion: Palliative Care offers a holistic clinical approach to complex suffering. Palliative care specialists develop advanced skill sets in prognosis estimation, nuanced communication issues, and patient-centered goal setting. As this case highlights, prognosis can shift dramatically in the perimortem period, even with small changes in care plans. This case presented several biomedical, social-cultural, and ethical challenges to the team. Lessons from the case are presented regarding: the role a specialist palliative team might play throughout all stages of serious illness; approaching prognostication as an iterative rather than solitary task; and utilizing an ethical framework to care planning when there are barriers to shared decision making.
OBJECTIVES: The need to empower Ambulance Service staff at the point of delivery of end of life care (EoLC) is crucial. We describe the delivery, outcomes and potential impact of the Serious Illness Conversation project delivered to Welsh Ambulance Service Trust (WAST) staff. Over an 18-month period, 368 WAST staff attended face-to-face teaching, which included serious illness conversation communication skills, symptom control and 'shared decision making'.
METHOD: Data collected from WAST staff were used to gain insight on perception of their role and challenges within the context of EoLC, understand the impact of teaching on self-confidence and identify impact on the wider service. A mixed methods approach was used for data analysis.
RESULTS: WAST staff view themselves in several important roles, acting as 'facilitators' to patient-centred, seamless care, providing support, liaison between services and practical help in patient care at the end of life. The difficult questions and situations pertaining to EoLC were related to discussions on death and dying and managing expectation. The predominant barriers identified related to communication. Quantitative outcomes on the six communication domains indicate statistically significant improvement in self-assessed confidence. The overall impact to the wider ambulance service suggests a trend towards better use of resources.
CONCLUSION: The perceived roles and challenges identified by paramedics can help in customising training objectives. The initial outcomes from the ongoing project with WAST demonstrate increased confidence in handling communication issues. Initial successive surveys suggest teaching is making a real life impact on patient care at end of life.
Whether because of a cultural pattern or personal preference, palliative care clinicians encounter persons approaching the end of life who wish to limit or forego prognostic information relating to their situation. This scenario has received attention in a recent motion picture as well as a newly available advance directive modification-the Prognosis Declaration form. The ordinary expectation for end-of-life shared decision-making with a capable person is clinician disclosure of the best effort at prognostic assessment. The optimal match between the expressed values, goals, and preferences of the person with available clinician expertise is hopefully achieved. For the clinician, a person's choice to modify information disclosure and participation in shared decision-making represents a significant challenge of balancing key ethical principles of intervention with tolerance and compassion for these different preferences. Attention to communication strategies that elicit and appropriately reassess individual information and decision-making wishes, flexibility in information disclosure patterns with capable persons and their representatives, and recognition that a respect for autonomy includes the choice to opt out can approach this challenge while providing compassionate and ethical end-of-life care.