Objective: To determine whether physicians followed a hospital policy permitting them to not offer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to patients considered unlikely to benefit from this therapy.
Design: Prospective series.
Setting: San Francisco General Hospital, a university-affiliated public hospital.
Patients: Attending physicians were interviewed about patients admitted over a period of 5 consecutive months for whom do-not resuscitate (DNR) orders were written. Only the first patient for whom each physician wrote a DNR order was included.
Main outcome measures: Responses of physicians to questions regarding their initiation of DNR orders for these patients.
Results: Sixty-nine physicians responded to questions about DNR orders written for 69 patients. Fifty-seven of these physicians said that they were aware of the hospital policy, and 49 of the 57 physicians said that they generally agreed with it. Thirty-three physicians felt that CPR should be offered only to patients likely to benefit from it. In contrast, 36 physicians said that CPR should be offered to all patients, regardless of benefit. CPR was offered to 41 patients and 15 surrogates; 27 of these patients were considered to be unlikely to benefit from CPR.
Conclusion: Despite a policy that allows them to do otherwise, physicians usually offered CPR to patients, regardless of benefit. Most physicians believed that CPR should be offered to all patients. These findings suggest that policies such as that of San Francisco General Hospital may not be compelling because physicians hold attitudes that are inconsistent with the policies.