To find out how well patients' wishes were communicated, Heyland's team had 278 patients at risk of dying within six months and 225 family members complete questionnaires about end-of-life care decisions.
Among these patients, more than 76 percent had thought about their end-of-life care. Of these, nearly 12 percent wanted life-prolonging care, 48 percent had an advance care plan and 73 percent had named a person who could make decisions about their health care, the researchers found.
For patients who made plans with their health care providers, 30 percent had consulted their family doctor, while 55 percent had expressed their wishes to a member of the health care team.
Yet those wishes, or family-made decisions, only showed up on 30 percent of the patients' medical records, the researchers found.
According to Morrison, there are three key reasons why doctors and patients don't communicate about end-of-life care. First, doctors aren't trained in how to talk to patients about end-of-life care. Second, it's not a routine part of care. And third, in some cases, he said, doctors would rather do procedures than have conversations.
To overcome this problem, patients should talk to their doctor and doctors should ask their patients, Heyland said.
"We have started a 'Speak Up' campaign directed to the public and a 'Just Ask' campaign directed to health care professionals," he noted.
Morrison thinks it's the doctors' responsibility to discuss end-of-life care, not the patients' responsibility.
"Patients should feel comfortable raising this, but I think that's a terrible onus to put on patients and families," he said. "It should be your physician who raises it with you. You shouldn't be in the position of having to [say], 'Let me
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