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J Pain Symptom Manage. 2019 Feb;57(2):233-240. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2018.10.510. Epub 2018 Nov 1.

Palliative Care Clinician Overestimation of Survival in Advanced Cancer: Disparities and Association With End-of-Life Care.

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University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. Electronic address:
University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
University of California, San Francisco, California.
Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.
Maine Medical Center, Portland, Maine.
University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona.



Clinicians frequently overestimate survival time in serious illness.


The objective of this study was to understand the frequency of overestimation in palliative care (PC) and the relation with end-of-life (EOL) treatment.


This is a multisite cohort study of 230 hospitalized patients with advanced cancer who consulted with PC between 2013 and 2016. We asked the consulting PC clinician to make their "best guess" about the patients' "most likely survival time, assuming that their illnesses are allowed to take their natural course" (<24 hours; 24 hours to less than two weeks; two weeks to less than three months; three months to less than six months; six months or longer). We followed patients for up to six month for mortality and EOL treatment utilization. Patients completed a brief interviewer-facilitated questionnaire at study enrollment.


Median survival was 37 days (interquartile range: 12 days, 97 days) and 186/230 (81%) died during the follow-up period. Forty-one percent of clinicians' predictions were accurate. Among inaccurate prognoses, 85% were overestimates. Among those who died, overestimates were substantially associated with less hospice use (ORadj: 0.40; 95% CI: 0.16-0.99) and later hospice enrollment (within 72 hours of death ORadj: 0.33; 95% CI: 0.15-0.74). PC clinicians were substantially more likely to overestimate survival for patients who identified as Black or Latino compared to others (ORadj: 3.89; 95% CI: 1.64-9.22). EOL treatment preferences did not explain either of these findings.


Overestimation is common in PC, associated with lower hospice use and a potentially mutable source of racial/ethnic disparity in EOL care.


Prognosis; bias; optimism; patient-centered

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