Purpose: Previous studies have suggested the importance of communicating with patients about prognosis at the end of life, yet the prevalence, content, and consequences of such communication have not been fully investigated. The purposes of this study were to estimate the proportion of terminally ill inpatients with documented discussions about prognosis, describe the nature and correlates of such discussions, and assess the association between documented discussions about prognosis and subsequent advance care planning.
Subjects and methods: Inpatients (n = 232) at least 65 years old who had brain, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, or inoperable lung cancer were randomly selected from six randomly chosen community hospitals in Connecticut. The presence and content of discussions about prognosis, advanced care planning efforts, and sociodemographic and clinical factors were ascertained by comprehensive review of medical records using a standardized abstraction form.
Results: Discussions about prognosis were documented in the medical records of 89 (38%) patients. Physicians and patients were both present during the discussion in 46 (52%) of these cases. Time until expected death was infrequently documented. Having a documented discussion about prognosis was associated with documented discussions of life-sustaining treatments (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 5.8; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.8 to 12.0) and having a do-not-resuscitate order (adjusted OR = 2.2; 95% CI: 1.1 to 4.2).
Conclusions: Among terminally ill patients with cancer, discussions about prognosis as documented in medical charts are infrequent and limited in scope. In some cases, such documented discussions may be important catalysts for subsequent discussions of patient and family preferences regarding treatment and future care.