OBJECTIVES: Burdensome and futile interventions with the aim of prolonging life should be avoided in dying patients. However, current clinical practice has hardly been investigated.We examined the number and type of diagnostic and therapeutic medical interventions in hospitalised patients with cancer in their last days of life. In addition, we investigated if physician awareness of impending death affected the use of these interventions.
METHODS: Questionnaire study and medical record study. Attending physicians of patients who died in a university hospital between January 2010 and June 2012 were asked whether they had been aware of the patient's impending death. The use of diagnostic and therapeutic interventions and medications was assessed by studying patients' charts. We included 131 patients.
RESULTS: In the last 72 and 24 hours of life, 59% and 24% of the patients received one or more diagnostic interventions, respectively. Therapeutic interventions were provided to 47% and 31%. In the last 24 hours of life, patients received on average 5.8 types of medication.Awareness of a patient's impending death was associated with a significant lower use of diagnostic interventions (48% vs 69% in the last 72 hours; 11% vs 37% in the last 24 hours) and several medications that potentially prolong life (eg, antibiotics and cardiovascular medication).
CONCLUSIONS: Many patients with cancer who die in hospital receive diagnostic and therapeutic interventions in the last days of life of which their advantages are questionable. To improve end-of-life care, medical care should be adapted.