Asking patients how they would like to die is not a question that comes easy to most doctors. Not surprisingly, most of us - doctors and patients alike - prefer to avoid the topic completely. That's not good, says VJ Periyakoil, MD, director of palliative care education and training at Stanford.
As I wrote in an Inside Stanford Medicine article on Periyakoil's new study on end-of-life conversations:
End-of-life conversations help clarify for doctors what matters most to patients in their waning days of life... "What are their hopes, wants, needs and fears? Do they want to die at the hospital on a machine? Do they want to die at home? We can't know unless we have a conversation," she said.
Her study, published today in PLOS One, surveyed more than 1,000 medical residents and found that most balk at talking with seriously ill patients about what's important to them in their final days, especially if the patient's ethnicity is different than their own. Of those surveyed, 99.99 percent reported barriers, with 86 percent rating them as very challenging.
The upshot for Periyakoil, as she explains in a New York Times column published today, is that if we want to have a say in how we die, we should start that conversation ourselves.
To get these conversations started far and wide, she has launched the Stanford Letter Project - a campaign to empower all adults to take the initiative to talk to their doctor about what matters most to them at life's end. The project's website hosts templates for a letter about this to your doctor to get the conversation rolling. The templates are in Mandarin, Spanish and Tagalog as well as English - and Periyakoil says translations in additional languages will be available soon.
Previously: In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day: A reminder for patients to address end-of-life issues, Study: Doctors would choose less aggressive end-of-life care for themselves, Asking the hardest questions: Talking with doctors while terminally ill, On a mission to transform end-of-life care and The importance of patient/doctor end-of-life discussions
Photo by Gioia De Antoniis