Family communication and decision making at the end of life: a literature review

Palliat Support Care. 2015 Jun;13(3):815-25. doi: 10.1017/S1478951514000388. Epub 2014 Apr 28.


Objective: Patients and families coping with a terminal illness are faced with a number of decisions over the course of their disease. The role that family communication plays in the process of decision making is an important one. The objectives for this review are to examine the current state of empirical literature on the relationship between family communication and decision making about end-of-life care, to identify gaps, and to discuss implications for policy, practice, and future research.

Method: Articles were identified using systematic keyword searches within the following relevant databases: Academic Search Complete, CINAHL Plus, Communications and Mass Media Complete, ERIC, PsychINFO, MEDLINE, SocINDEX, and ProQuest.

Results: The three bodies of relevant literature that emerged during this review include: (1) the importance of family communication at the end of life (EoL); (2) family decision making at the EoL; and (3) the interrelationship of communication (both within the family and with healthcare professionals) and decision making at the EoL. While the literature highlights the role of communication between medical professionals and the patient or family members, there is very little focus on the process of how family communication among the family members themselves contributes to decision making at the end of life.

Significance of results: Barriers to end-of-life care are important considerations for helping patients to access timely and appropriate services. Understanding the pertinent role of family communication as it relates to the decision for EoL care is the first step in working to provide another avenue for overcoming these barriers.

Keywords: Decision making; End of life; Family communication; Hospice; Literature review.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Communication*
  • Decision Making*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / methods*