Preferences of physicians and their patients for end-of-life care

J Gen Intern Med. 1997 Jun;12(6):346-51. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1997.00058.x.


Objective: Both physicians and patients view advance directives as important, yet discussions occur infrequently. We assessed differences and correlations between physicians' and their patients' desires for end-of-life care for themselves.

Measurements and main results: Study physicians (n = 78) were residents and faculty practicing in an inner-city, academic primary care general internal medicine practice. Patients (n = 831) received primary care from these physicians and were either at least 75 or between 50 and 74 years of age, with selected morbid conditions. Physicians and patients completed identical questionnaires that included an assessment of their preferences for six specific treatments if they were terminally ill. There were significant differences between physicians' and patients' preferences for all six treatments (p < .0001), with physicians wanting less treatment than their patients for five of them. Patients desiring more care (p < .01) were more often male (odds ratio [OR] 1.7). African-American (OR 1.6), and older (OR 1.02 per year). There were no such correlates with physicians' preferences. A treatment preference score was calculated from respondents' desires to receive or refuse the six treatments. Physicians' scores were highly correlated with those of their enrolled primary care patients (r = .51, p < .0001).

Conclusions: Although patients and physicians as groups differ substantially in their preferences for end-of-life care, there was significant correlation between individual academic physicians' preferences and those of their primary care patients. Reasons for this correlation are unknown.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Directives* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Urban Population
  • Withholding Treatment