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A good time for a heart-to-heart talk

Posted Oct 22 2008 7:22pm
I think this might be a very important piece of research. I quote portions of the abstract from a recent article in JAMA. Comments and observations, as always, are welcome.

Associations Between End-of-Life Discussions, Patient Mental Health, Medical Care Near Death, and Caregiver Bereavement Adjustment

Alexi A. Wright, MD; Baohui Zhang, MS; Alaka Ray, MD; Jennifer W. Mack, MD, MPH; Elizabeth Trice, MD, PhD; Tracy Balboni, MD, MPH; Susan L. Mitchell, MD; Vicki A. Jackson, MD, MPH; Susan D. Block, MD; Paul K. Maciejewski, PhD; Holly G. Prigerson, PhD
JAMA. 2008;300(14):1665-1673.

Talking about death can be difficult. Without evidence that end-of-life discussions improve patient outcomes, physicians must balance their desire to honor patient autonomy against a concern of inflicting psychological harm.

To determine whether end-of-life discussions with physicians are associated with fewer aggressive interventions.

Design, Setting, and Participants
A US multisite, prospective, longitudinal cohort study of patients with advanced cancer and their informal caregivers (n = 332dyads), September 2002-February 2008. Patients were followed up from enrollment to death, a median of 4.4 months later. Bereaved caregivers' psychiatric illness and quality of life was assessed a median of 6.5 months later.

Main Outcome Measures
Aggressive medical care (eg, ventilation, resuscitation) and hospice in the final week of life. Secondary outcomes included patients' mental health and caregivers' bereavement adjustment.

One hundred twenty-three of 332 (37.0%) patients reported having end-of-life discussions before baseline.... After propensity-score weighted adjustment, end-of-life discussions were associated with lower rates of ventilation... resuscitation ... ICU admission ... and earlier hospice enrollment. In adjusted analyses, more aggressive medical care was associated with worse patient quality of life ... and higher risk of major depressive disorder in bereaved caregivers ... whereas longer hospice stays were associated with better patient quality of life .... Better patient quality of life was associated with better caregiver quality of life at follow-up....

End-of-life discussions are associated with less aggressive medical care near death and earlier hospice referrals. Aggressive care is associated with worse patient quality of life and worse bereavement adjustment.
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