Background: Reports describe patient and health care system benefits when clinicians engage in end-of-life conversations with patients diagnosed with life-limiting illnesses, yet most clinicians focus on life-preserving treatments and avoid conversations about end-of-life care. We describe patient-clinician communication practices about end-of-life care in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) using self-report questionnaires to: (1) characterize the content of patient-clinician communication about end-of-life care from the patient perspective, including topics that were not addressed and ratings of the quality of the communication for topics discussed and (2) determine whether clinician characteristics was associated with the absence of specific communication items addressed.
Methods: Cross-sectional study of outpatients (n = 376) who completed the Quality of Communication (QOC) questionnaire (outcome measure). The primary exposure was clinician training. We used logistic regression. All tests were two-tailed and p < 0.05 was considered significant.
Results: Clinicians (n = 92) were staff physicians (33.7%), physician trainees (35.9%), and advanced practice nurses (30.4%). Patients were older (mean age, 69.4 years, standard deviation [SD] 10.0); white (86%) men (97%) with severe COPD (mean forced expiraory volume in 1 second [FEV(1)] percent predicted 50%, SD 20). All end-of-life topics were underaddressed. Four topics were not addressed 77%-94% of the time. None of the QOC items varied significantly by clinician type in adjusted logistic regression.
Conclusions: All end-of-life communication topics were underaddressed by clinicians, regardless of training, with four topics particularly unlikely to be discussed. End-of-life topics that are important to patients should be targeted for an intervention to facilitate improvement in clinicians' communication skills and practice and may improve patient satisfaction with clinician communication.