Physician and Patient Characteristics Associated With More Intensive End-of-Life Care

Paul R. Duberstein, Richard L. Kravitz, Joshua J. Fenton, Guibo Xing, Daniel J. Tancredi, Michael Hoerger, Supriya G. Mohile, Sally A. Norton, Holly G. Prigerson, Ronald M. Epstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Context: Although patient and physician characteristics are thought to be predictive of discretionary interventions at the end of life (EoL), few studies have data on both parties. Objective: To test the hypothesis that patient preferences and physician attitudes are both independently associated with discretionary interventions at the EoL. Methods: We report secondary analyses of data collected prospectively from physicians (n = 38) and patients with advanced cancer (n = 265) in the Values and Options in Cancer Care study. Predictor variables were patient attitudes toward EoL care and physician-reported comfort with medical paternalism, assessed indirectly using a modified version of the Control Preference Scale. We explored whether the magnitude of the physician variable was influenced by the inclusion of particular patient treatment-preference variables (i.e., effect modification). Outcomes were a chemotherapy use score (≤14 days before death [scored 2], 15–31 days before death [scored 1], and >31 days [scored 0]) and an emergency department visit/inpatient admission score (two or more admissions in the last 31 days [scored 2], one admission [1], and 0 admissions [0]) in the last month of life. Results: Chemotherapy scores were nearly 0.25 points higher if patients expressed a preference for experimental treatments with unknown benefit at study entry (0.238 points, 95% CI = 0.047–0.429) or reported an unfavorable attitude toward palliative care (0.247 points, 95% CI = 0.047–0.450). A two–standard deviation difference in physician comfort with medical paternalism corresponded to standardized effects of 0.35 (95% CI = 0.03–0.66) for chemotherapy and 0.33 (95% CI = 0.04–0.61) for emergency department visits/inpatient admissions. There was no evidence of effect modification. Conclusion: Patient treatment preferences and physician attitudes are independently associated with higher levels of treatment intensity before death. Greater research, clinical, and policy attention to patient treatment preferences and physician comfort with medical paternalism might lead to improvements in care of patients with advanced disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-215.e1
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


  • Advanced cancer
  • biomedical ethics
  • chemotherapy
  • emergency department
  • end of life
  • health care utilization
  • hospitalization
  • palliative care
  • patient treatment preferences
  • physician attitudes


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