Background: End-of-life discussions are associated with decreased use of life-sustaining treatments in patients dying of cancer in the outpatient setting, but little is known about discussions that take place during terminal hospitalizations.
Objectives: To determine the proportion of patients assessed by the clinical team to have decisional capacity on admission, how many of these patients participated or had a surrogate participate in a discussion about end-of-life care, and whether patient participation was associated with treatments received.
Design: Retrospective review.
Patients: Adult patients with advanced cancer who died in the hospital between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2007.
Results: Of the 145 inpatients meeting inclusion criteria, 115 patients (79%) were documented to have decisional capacity on admission. Among these patients, 46 (40%) were documented to lose decisional capacity prior to an end-of-life discussion and had the discussion held instead by a surrogate. Patients who had surrogate participation in the end-of-life discussions were more likely to receive mechanical ventilation (56.5% vs 23.2%, P < 0.01), artificial nutrition (45.7% vs 25.0%, P = 0.03), chemotherapy (39.1% vs 5.4%, P <0.01), and intensive care unit (ICU) treatment (56.5% vs 23.2%, P <0.01) compared to patients who participated in discussions. There was no difference between palliative treatments received.
Conclusion: The majority of patients with advanced cancer are considered to have decisional capacity at the time of their terminal hospitalization. Many lose decisional capacity before having an end-of-life discussion and have surrogate decision-makers participate in these discussions. These patients received more aggressive life-sustaining treatments prior to death and represent a missed opportunity to improve end-of-life care.
Copyright © 2012 Society of Hospital Medicine.