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Nancy Schoenborn, MD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, and colleagues asked more than 1000 older adults with chronic illnesses when and how they wanted to talk to physicians about life expectancy.

Dr. Schoenborn’s findings are featured in the December 14 Medscape article which highlights patients’ desires when it comes to having end-of-life conversations with their doctors.

What Schoenborn found was that 59.4 percent of the 878 respondents didn’t want to talk about life expectancy at all if life expectancy was 10 or more years. 87.7 percent did not want physicians talking to family or friends about it either. Patients’ interest changed, however, when life expectancy dropped to 2 years. Then, 55.8 percent of patients wanted their doctor to talk to them about it. Still, 16.5 percent of respondents didn’t want to talk about life expectancy even when it dropped to 1 month.

She was also surprised to learn that nearly 60 percent of patients would not be open to having the conversation even if prompted by their physician.

For patients who don’t want to talk about length of time at all, there are other options, especially when discussing preventive screenings, stated Robert M. Arnold, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh. The goal isn’t to tell people what they don’t want to know. It’s to help people cope with where they are,” said Arnold, who has studied physician communication and end-of-life care for decades.

Access the Medscape article to learn more about rethinking conversations on prognosis and life expectancy.