Study: Only about half of terminal patients discuss hospice with physicians

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While discussing end-of-life issues with doctors has been shown to benefit patients and families, approximately half of terminally ill patients refrain from these discussions, according to a new study.

The new research comes from Harvard Medical School, where study authors analyzed the files of more than 1,500 terminal cancer patients across the country to determine whether or not the option of hospice care had been discussed in their final months. After breaking down the results by race, researchers found that only 43% of Hispanics talked about hospice care with their doctors. That was followed by blacks (49%), whites (53%) and Asians (57%). Overall, 53% of the total number of patients looked at for the study had discussed hospice and end-of-life care with their physician. Recent research has indicated that patient-doctor discussion about end-of-life issues can improve quality of life for patents and families alike (McKnight's, 10/8/08).

Study authors suggested that some patients who did not discuss hospice care may have profoundly misunderstood their prognosis, or may simply have chosen to believe their outcome would be better than the doctors predicted. Either way, researchers say increased communication could help dispel such misunderstandings and increase awareness of hospice services. The report appears in the May 25 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.