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J Gen Intern Med. 2000 Mar;15(3):195-200.

A physician's guide to talking about end-of-life care.

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  • 1Cambridge Health Alliance, Cambridge, Mass, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.


A large majority of patients and close family members are interested in discussing end-of-life issues with their physician. Most expect their physician to initiate such dialogue. End-of-life discussions, however, must go beyond the narrow focus of resuscitation. Instead, such discussions should address the broad array of concerns shared by most dying patients and families: fears about dying, understanding prognosis, achieving important end-of-life goals, and attending to physical needs. Good communication can facilitate the development of a comprehensive treatment plan that is medically sound and concordant with the patient's wishes and values. This paper presents a practical 4-step approach to conducting end-of-life discussions with patients and their families: (1) Initiating Discussion, (2) Clarifying Prognosis, (3) Identifying End-of-Life Goals, and (4) Developing a Treatment Plan. By following these 4 steps, communication can be enhanced, fears allayed, pain and suffering minimized, and most end-of-life issues resolved comfortably, without conflict.

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