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The importance of patient-doctor end-of-life discussions

How important is it for physicians to let terminally ill patients know when the end is near? Booster Shots today reports on a Journal of Clinical Oncology study that explored that question:

Researchers in Sweden examined 1,191 cases in which patients were informed of imminent death and a similar number in which patients were not informed.

The study showed no differences between the two groups regarding pain control, nausea, anxiety and other symptoms at the end of life - most likely because these symptoms are unlikely to change in the week before death. But the patients who were informed were much more likely to have their preferences met regarding intravenous medications, such as morphine. They were also more likely to have died in their preferred place and their family members were more likely to be offered bereavement support and were prepared for the event.

The researchers note in the paper that their results are consistent with previous research showing that hearing that death is imminent enables patients and family members to plan for the last days of life. And these findings, they conclude, "support the importance of end-of-life care discussions to fulfill the principles of a good death."

Previously: Emotional, social support crucial for cancer patients, KQED health program focuses on end-of-life care and Facing mortality

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