Although patient-physician discussion is the most important tool for end-of-life planning, less than 30% of seriously ill patients have held these discussions. While physicians use objective disease severity and recent clinical events to trigger end-of-life discussions, it is not known if such findings predict patient readiness. We evaluated the ability of disease severity measures and recent clinical events to predict patient readiness for end-of-life discussions in patients with chronic lung disease.
The desire for discussion about end-of-life care was evaluated in 100 outpatients with a diagnosis of chronic lung disease presenting for pulmonary function testing. Objective disease severity was indicated by the percentage of the predicted forced expiratory volume, use of oral corticosteroids, a functional status score, frequency of recent hospitalizations, and required use of mechanical ventilation.
In multivariate analysis, patient desire for an end-of-life discussion with the physician was not associated with percentage of predicted forced expiratory volume in 1 second (odds ratio [OR], 0.99; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.96-1.03), oral corticosteroid use (OR, 1.34; 95% CI, 0.40-4.54), functional status score (OR, 1.37; 95% CI, 0.34-5.56), hospitalizations in the past year (OR, 0.33; 95% CI, 0.09-1.20), or previous mechanical ventilation (OR, 1.37; 95% CI, 0.34-5.56).
Patients appear no more or less interested in end-of-life discussions at later stages of chronic lung disease. Physicians cannot use disease severity measures or recent clinical events to accurately predict when patients desire end-of-life discussions. Focusing on physician skill in using specific communication strategies for patients at all stages of illness may be the most promising approach to increasing end-of-life discussions.