Doctors Choose Less Aggressive Care at End of Life
Findings suggest they understand limits of modern medicine better than the patients they treat do
By Dennis Thompson
TUESDAY, Jan. 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors facing death are less likely to demand aggressive care that might squeeze out a bit more extra time of life, two new studies show.
One study found that doctors facing the end of their lives are less likely than the general public to undergo surgery, be treated in an intensive care unit or die in a hospital.
"It seems to confirm the idea that physicians understand the limits of modern medicine at the end of life," said lead author Joel Weissman. He is deputy director and chief scientific officer of the Center for Surgery and Public Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"When faced with that kind of decision, they choose to have more peaceful and less aggressive care at end of life," Weissman added.
Those findings were backed up by the second study, which found that physicians and people with higher education are less likely to die in a hospital than people in the general population.
"This suggests that being well-educated has an influence on how we experience death," said study author Dr. Saul Blecker, an assistant professor of population health at New York University School of Medicine.
However, Dr. Joseph Rotella, chief medical officer for the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, said neither study showed extremely large differences between doctors and other people when it comes to dying.
"Although there were differences that were statistically significant, they were pretty small differences. I want to guard against over-interpreting what was actually seen in this study," Rotella said.
Most people would like to die at home rather than in a hospital or care facility, according to prior surveys cited as background information. Despite this, most deaths continue to occur in a hospital or nursing home.
In the first study, Weissman and his colleagues reviewed data on Medicare beneficiaries aged 66 or older who died between 2004 and 2011 in Massachusetts, Michigan, Utah and Vermont. The researchers focused on these states because they offered electronic death records that could be linked to Medicare data.