Research: More efforts needed to improve end-of-life discussion

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A combination of education, ongoing dialogue, and involvement of all members of the healthcare team are essential to improving end-of-life communication with patients and family, research studies cited by the American Medical Directors Association Foundation indicate.

"End-of-life issues aren't being discussed in a timely manner," says Ronda Hughes, senior health sciences administrator and senior advisor on end-of-life care at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. "When patients are experiencing acute life threatening situations is not the time to talk about their wishes and preferences."

Although there isn't one single reason why end-of-life discussions are not taking place or happening in a timely and effective manner, Hughes says that one reason is that often physicians simply are not comfortable having such conversations. Facilities that provide the necessary tools and educational materials can make it easier for physicians to have the discussions.

 "You can't just hand patients a brochure on advance directives," Hughes cautions. "It takes a proactive approach."

While calling for more in-depth research on the topic, Hughes noted that studies indicate that physicians tend to be more hesitant to address the issue of end-of-life planning when they are closer to the patient.