Palliative medicine review: prognostication

J Palliat Med. Jan-Feb 2008;11(1):84-103. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2008.9992.

Abstract

Prognostication, along with diagnosis and treatment, is a traditional core clinical skill of the physician. Many patients and families receiving palliative care want information about life expectancy to help plan realistically for their futures. Although underappreciated, prognosis is, or at least should be, part of every clinical decision. Despite this crucial role, expertise in the art and science of prognostication diminished during the twentieth century, due largely to the ascendancy of accurate diagnostic tests and effective therapies. Consequently, "Doctor, how long do I have?" is a question most physicians find unprepared to answer effectively. As we focus on palliative care in the twenty-first century, prognostication will need to be restored as a core clinical proficiency. The discipline of palliative medicine can provide leadership in this direction. This paper begins by discussing a framework for understanding prognosis and how its different domains might be applied to all patients with life limiting illness, although the main focus of the paper is predicting survival in patients with cancer. Examples of prognostic tools are provided, although the subjective assessment of prognosis remains important in the terminally ill. Other issues addressed include: the importance of prognostication in terms of clinical decision-making, discharge planning, and care planning; the impact of prognosis on hospice referrals and patient/family satisfaction; and physicians' willingness to prognosticate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms
  • Palliative Care*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Prognosis*