A physician's guide to talking about end-of-life care

J Gen Intern Med. 2000 Mar;15(3):195-200. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2000.07228.x.


A large majority of patients and close family members are interested in discussing end-of-life issues with their physician. Most expect their physician to initiate such dialogue. End-of-life discussions, however, must go beyond the narrow focus of resuscitation. Instead, such discussions should address the broad array of concerns shared by most dying patients and families: fears about dying, understanding prognosis, achieving important end-of-life goals, and attending to physical needs. Good communication can facilitate the development of a comprehensive treatment plan that is medically sound and concordant with the patient's wishes and values. This paper presents a practical 4-step approach to conducting end-of-life discussions with patients and their families: (1) Initiating Discussion, (2) Clarifying Prognosis, (3) Identifying End-of-Life Goals, and (4) Developing a Treatment Plan. By following these 4 steps, communication can be enhanced, fears allayed, pain and suffering minimized, and most end-of-life issues resolved comfortably, without conflict.

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Death*
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Resuscitation Orders
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • United States