Prognosis communication in serious illness: perceptions of older patients, caregivers, and clinicians

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2003 Oct;51(10):1398-403. doi: 10.1046/j.1532-5415.2003.51457.x.


Objectives: To examine agreement between patients, caregivers, and clinicians regarding prognosis communication and to examine patients' and caregivers' desire for prognostic information.

Design: Cross-sectional survey.

Setting: Participants' homes.

Participants: Two hundred fourteen persons aged 60 and older with a limited life expectancy secondary to cancer, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; caregivers; and clinicians.

Measurements: Patient-clinician and caregiver-clinician agreement about the occurrence of prognosis discussions and patient and caregiver desire for prognostic information.

Results: In 46% of patient/clinician and 34% of caregiver/clinician pairs, the clinician reported saying that the patient could die of the underlying disease, whereas the patient or caregiver reported no discussion. In 23% of patient/clinician and 30% of patient/caregiver pairs, the clinician reported discussing an approximate life expectancy, whereas the patient or caregiver reported no discussion. Of 205 patients who reported no life expectancy discussion, 40% did not want this discussion. Whereas 83% of those believing they had 1 year or less to live wanted to discuss prognosis, 79% of those believing they had 1 to 2 years, 53% of those believing they had 2 to 5 years, and 50% of those believing they had more than 5 years or who were unwilling to answer wanted this discussion (P=.007).

Conclusion: Although clinicians report that they are discussing prognosis, patients and caregivers frequently do not corroborate these reports. Furthermore, many patients do not want prognostic information. Despite previous reports concluding that patients want full disclosure about their illness, many seriously ill older persons and caregivers may not be ready or able to receive prognostic information.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Communication*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Heart Failure / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / psychology*