Residents' end-of-life decision making with adult hospitalized patients: a review of the literature

Todd E Gorman, St├ęphane P Ahern, Jeffrey Wiseman, Yoanna Skrobik
Academic Medicine 2005, 80 (7): 622-33

PURPOSE: The authors performed a structured literature review to understand residents' experiences with end-of-life (EOL) decision making with adult hospitalized patients, specifically regarding decisions to withhold or withdraw advanced life-support measures.

METHOD: An Ovid-based strategy was used to search Medline, ERIC, PsychINFO, and CINHAL databases for articles published between 1966 and February 2005, combining the domains of "resuscitation orders," "decision making," and "internship and residency." All quantitative and qualitative studies examining residents' EOL decision making with adult hospitalized patients were included. The authors developed and applied a scoring system for relevance and quality, performed data abstraction and quality assessment independently and in duplicate, then met to collate findings and identify factors in residents' EOL decision making.

RESULTS: The searches yielded 884 articles, of which 26 were included. Variable methodologies precluded meta-analysis. In these studies, residents felt unprepared to handle patient EOL decision making, although exposure to EOL discussions helped them gain confidence. Residents' attitudes, skills, and knowledge were key determinants of whether EOL decisions were addressed. Many misinterpreted the terms "DNR" and "futility." Residents' understanding of the patient EOL decision-making process could be extremely variable, and their do-not-resuscitate discussions suboptimal. Residents' lived practice experience of the patient EOL decision-making process was often at odds with what they were taught in formal curricula.

CONCLUSIONS: Educational strategies aimed at changing residents' knowledge, skills and attitude should address the hidden curriculum for the patient EOL decision-making process that is part of the experienced culture of every day practice. Future studies of this experienced culture would inform specific educational interventions.

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