March 16, 2009

Study: Terminally Ill Feel Abandoned by Doctors

Terminally ill patients and their family caregivers often feel abandoned by their doctors and feel a sense of "unfinished business," according to a new study by an oncologist at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

The study results identified two themes.  First, before-death abandonment worries related to loss of continuity of communication between patient and physician.  The other theme includes the family's feelings of abandonment from lack of closure with the physician after, or at the time of death.

"Doctors often don't realize how important this issue is for patients and their families," lead author Anthony Back, M.D., an expert on patient/physician communication was quoted as saying.  "Something as simple as a phone call can go a long way toward allaying abandonment concerns,"  he added

Dr. Back and colleagues at the University of Washington School of Medicine lay out a simple plan for how physicians and nurses can achieve continuity and closure before and after a patient dies.

Before death, continuity can be achieved by assuring patients that they will be available to see them and by maintaining contact, often by phone, as death approaches. Anticipating and acknowledging the probable last visit with a patient can also address closure. After a patient dies, the researchers recommend that physicians call the family caregiver as an act of closure.

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, March 2009