Doctors feel stressed working with surrogate decision makers, study finds

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Approximately 20% of doctors are not comfortable working with a severely disabled patient's surrogate decision maker, according to a new survey.

The Indiana University School of Medicine study surveyed a total of 281 doctors. Many reported ineffective communication, lack of a satisfactory outcome and seriously increased levels of stress resulting from their work with the patient surrogate. About 75% of the doctors surveyed had worked with a surrogate within a month of the study. Nearly 25% reported feeling a great deal of stress. Difficulty in reaching the surrogates was often cited as a cause for stress, as was a lack of clear understanding of the patient's care wishes.

Surrogates, often close family members, become involved when a patient is so severely disabled they are incapable of making their own decisions. This occurs typically during extreme old age, near the end of life. The report appears in the September edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.