End-of-life decisions take longer without prior discussion

Apr 18, 2011

End-of-life discussions are helpful to family members  who must make hospice arrangements for loved ones.

When patients don't discuss their desires for life support measures with their families, end-of-life decisions take significantly longer to arrange, according to a recent study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Between 2005 and 2008, researchers studied 230 caregivers at four University of California San Francisco intensive care units. According to researchers, these caregivers were faced with the decision of whether or not to continue medical treatment for patients on ventilators with a greater than 50 percent chance of dying.

According to the university, families that were uncertain of their loved one's desires took up to two weeks longer to decide to discontinue further medical treatment than families that had already discussed the patient's wishes.

Those who had high-quality relationships with their relative's physician also reported feeling more confident making decisions, according to researchers. Lead researcher Dr. Douglas White believes doctors should be aware of the impact of strong communication. "This is the first evidence to suggest that how a doctor guides family members through the foreign territory of critical illness may influence their ability to act as a surrogate," White said.

Being prepared for grave illness by discussing desires, preparing a will and considering life insurance policies may ease the dying process on relatives of the deceased. 

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