Importance Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) have changed the way in which patients with chronic ventricular dysfunction are evaluated and treated.
Objective To examine patient-physician communication at the time the decision is made to implant an ICD.
Design, Setting, and Participants Forty-one patients with ICDs and 11 cardiologists were recruited by a national marketing research company for a study comprising patient focus groups and standardized patient interviews in 3 different metropolitan areas.
Interventions Eight patient focus groups and (separately) 22 standardized patient interviews with cardiologists.
Main Outcome Measures Patient focus group findings and the results of standardized patient interviews (each cardiologist interviewed 2 patients).
Results The mean (SD) patient age was 61.4 (14.7) years; 21 were female. Thirty-three patients could not recall a discussion about periprocedural or long-term complications. On a scale of 1 to 10, the mean (SD) rating of the degree to which patients felt informed before the implant procedure was 5.7 (3.2) (1 indicates “not at all informed,” and 10 indicates “I had all the information I needed or wanted”). The mean (SD) estimated number of patients out of 100 who would be saved by the ICD was 87.9 (20.1). A negative perception on body image and lifestyle was prevalent. Across 22 standardized patient interviews, cardiologists frequently (in >17 of 22 of interviews) did not address or minimized or denied quality-of-life issues and long-term consequences of ICD placement, including the risk for depression, anxiety, and inappropriate delivery of shock or device advisory. In 15 of 22 of the standardized patient interviews, cardiologists used unexplained medical terms or jargon.
Conclusions and Relevance Patient-physician communication about ICDs is characterized by unclear representation and omission of information to patients, with notable lack of attention to psychological and long-term risks. Training of cardiologists on information exchange with patients may promote informed decision making and preempt threats to patient quality of life.