The kind of medical interventions doctors used toward the end of their lives was examined by researchers. The findings have been published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The researchers wanted to test the theory, based on prior surveys, that doctors would choose less high-intensity hospital-based care at the end of their lives than would people without medical training. To test its theory, the research team examined Medicare records from 9,947 deceased physicians and 191,426 deceased non-doctors.
‘Doctors in the United States would choose less high-intensity hospital-based care at the end of their lives than would people without medical training.’
What the team discovered did not coincide with their expectations or with previous research:
- The number of days spent in the hospital during the last six months, as well as during the last one month of life, was about the same for doctors and non-doctors.
- The proportion of doctors and non-doctors who had at least one stay in an intensive care unit (ICU) was about the same toward the end of life.
- Doctors spent slightly more days in an ICU than non-doctors during the last six months and the last one month of life.
- More than 46% of doctors, versus 43.2% of non-doctors, had enrolled in hospice care for some amount of time during the last six months of life.
- The average age of the physicians in the study was 83. The researchers hypothesized that many of these doctors trained and practiced medicine before hospice and palliative care (which eases discomfort toward the end of life) were in use. They also suggested that fear and avoidance of dying are strong motivators of human behavior, to which doctors are not immune.