Listening is doctor’s key to dignified end-of-life care

Paul Kleyman | 4/10/2013, 7:10 a.m.

End-of-life desires: A study

Stanford University palliative care expert Dr. Vyjeyanthi “V.J.” Periyakoil believes that contrary to conventional wisdom, most patients don’t simply want every medical intervention that may or may not prolong their lives.

Overall, people want appropriate care sensitive to their quality of life that enables them to experience their final days as fully as possible with minimal stress for their families.

In fact, a 2012 report by the California Health Care Foundation affirmed Periyakoil’s understanding of what patients hope for. First and foremost, Californians in the study said they didn’t want their families burdened by the cost of their care, or by having to struggle with troubling decisions about their treatment.

Also, participants in the poll said they wanted to be comfortable without pain and hoped to be “at peace spiritually.” On the survey’s list of 12 “Most Important Factors at End of Life,” people placed the desire “to live as long as possible” down at number 10.

The survey does show difference among ethnic groups. Although more than half of Latinos (56 percent) rated prolonging life as their top choice, only 18 percent of Asians did so, followed by 25 percent of whites and 43 percent of African Americans.

Palliative care is such a growing national concern that the federal Institute of Medicine launched its new Committee on Transforming End-of-Life Care in February.

— Paul Kleyman