Is physician awareness of impending death in hospital related to better communication and medical care?

Dirk Houttekier, Frederika E Witkamp, Lia van Zuylen, Carin C D van der Rijt, Agnes van der Heide

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: In hospitals, where care is focused on cure and life prolongation, impending death is often recognized too late. Physician awareness of impending death is a prerequisite for communication with patients and relatives about dying in hospital and providing care that adequately addresses patients' needs.

OBJECTIVE: To examine to what extent physicians are aware of the impending death of their dying patients and if awareness is related with communication and medical care, with quality of life in the last 3 days and quality of dying.

DESIGN: Retrospective survey among hospital physicians after patient deaths.

SETTING/SUBJECTS: Patients who died between June 2009 and February 2011 at Erasmus University Medical Center (Rotterdam, The Netherlands).

MEASUREMENTS: Physician self-reported awareness of impending death, communication with patients and relatives, medical care, quality of life in the last 3 days, and quality of dying.

RESULTS: The response rate was 44% (n=228). Physicians reported that they had been aware of the impending death in 67% of their dying patients. If they had been aware, discussing death with patients and relatives was more likely, as well as changing the treatment goal into comfort care or withholding treatment and prescribing opioids in the last 3 days of life. When physicians had been aware of impending death, they rated the quality of dying higher.

CONCLUSIONS: In two-thirds of deaths, hospital physicians had been aware of impending death of their dying patients. Physician awareness was related with more communication and more appropriate care in the last days of life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1238-43
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014
Externally publishedYes

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