Objectives: The Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT) project was a study of 9105 seriously ill patients, 4274 of whom died within 6 months. HELP, the Hospitalized Elderly Longitudinal Project, was an ancillary study, in four of the five SUPPORT hospitals, of 1286 persons aged 80 years and older, 321 of whom died within 6 months. This paper reviews the SUPPORT and HELP literature to bring together insights concerning the time near death of seriously ill patients.
Methods: We reviewed published reports from SUPPORT and HELP, specifically, demographics of dying; characteristics of a prognostic model to estimate survival; patient symptoms near death; patient preferences and decision-making near death; ineffectiveness of the SUPPORT intervention; costs of dying while seriously ill; and the impact of serious illness on the family. We also compared and contrasted the experience of patients with different conditions.
Results: Patients in SUPPORT who died were typically younger than age 75. Most SUPPORT patients who died were male and most had an income of less than $11,000, although the older patients in HELP were even more likely to have had such low incomes. Patients with cirrhosis were much younger than most decedents, and patients with cancer were less often poor. Most had serious symptoms close to death. The place of death was more closely related to hospital bed supply than to decisions made by healthcare providers or individual patient preferences or characteristics. Prognosis near death was quite uncertain, especially in patients with heart and lung failure.
Conclusions: Although SUPPORT aimed to describe and compare decision-making affecting seriously ill patients, it also illuminated many other aspects of their course near death.