End-of-life decision making is a complex phenomenon and providers, patients, and families often have different views about the appropriateness of treatment choices. The results presented here are part of a larger grounded-theory study of reconciling decisions near the end of life. In particular, we examined how providers (N = 15) worked near the end of patients' lives toward changing the treatment decisions of patients and families from those decisions that providers described as unrealistic (i.e., curative) to those that providers described as more realistic (i.e., palliative). According to providers, shifting patients' and families' choices from curative to palliative was usually accomplished by changing patients' and families' understanding of the patient's overall "big picture" to one that was consistent with the providers' understanding. Until patients and families shifted their understanding of the patient's condition-the big picture-they continued to make what providers judged as unrealistic treatment choices based on an inaccurate understanding of what was really going on. These unrealistic choices often precluded possibilities for a "good death." According to providers, the purpose of attempting to shift the patient or proxy's goals was that realistic goals lead to realistic palliative treatment choices that providers associated with a good death. In this article we review strategies used by providers when they believed a patient's death was imminent to attempt to shift patients' and families' understandings of the big picture, thus ultimately shifting their treatment decisions.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.