End-of-Life Care takes a Village

End-of-Life Care takes a Village

– guest blog by Dr. David Quisenberry, Ph.D

A clear understanding of what patients, families, and health care practitioners view as important at the end of life is important to the success of improving care of dying patients. Moreover, it is important to maximize the special and unique skills and talents that each can best provide.

The results of a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association* provide some insight.  Hundreds of seriously or terminally ill patients, bereaved family, physicians, and care providers (nurses, social workers, chaplains, and hospice volunteers) were asked to rank the importance of 44 attributes of quality at the end of life from their perspective and experience.

Twenty four items were universally supported by all groups, and are listed in order:

  1. Be kept clean
  2. Name my decision maker
  3. A nurse with whom I am comfortable
  4. Know what to expect about my physical condition
  5. Have someone who will listen to me
  6. Maintain my dignity
  7. Trust my physician
  8. Have my financial affairs in order
  9. Be free of pain
  10. Maintain my sense of humor
  11. Say goodbye to important people
  12. Be free of shortness of breath
  13. Be free of anxiety
  14. Physician whom I can discuss my fears
  15. Physician who knows me as a whole person
  16. Resolve unfinished business with my family and friends
  17. Have physical touch
  18. Physician who is comfortable discussing death and dying
  19. Share time with my close friends
  20. Believe my family is prepared for my death
  21. Feel prepared to die
  22. Presence of my family
  23. Treatment preferences in writing
  24. Not die alone
  25. Reminded of my personal accomplishments
  26. Receive care from my personal physician

While there are no surprises on this list, this evidence gives us confidence about what a good death includes. It takes us beyond our own experience and biases to improve end-of-life care by documenting the range of preferences of all stakeholders and professionals.  It is important to note though, that quality care at the end of life is highly individual and can only be achieved through a process of shared decision making and clear communication about the specific values and preferences of each patient.

This study also highlights the need for dialogue during this challenging and uncertain process.

Eight items were consistently rated as very important to patients but were less important to physicians.

These included:

  1. Being mentally aware
  2. Having funeral arrangements planned
  3. Feeling that one’s life was complete
  4. Not being a burden to family
  5. Not being a burden to society
  6. Being able to help others
  7. Coming to peace with God
  8. Praying


Physicians tend to focus on physical aspects, while patients and families tend to view the end of life with broader emotional, social and spiritual meaning, shaped by the individuality of lifetime experiences. While physicians’ biomedical focus is a natural outgrowth of medical care that emphasizes the physical self, physicians should recognize patients’ other needs and facilitate ways for them to be addressed.

Patients, families, and care providers each play a critical role in shaping the experience at the end of life, and need to have frequent conversations about quality end-of-life care, and what represents a good death.

* Steinhauser, K. E., Christakis, N. A., Clipp, E. C., McNeilly, M., McIntyre, L., & Tulsky, J. A. (2000). Factors considered important at the end of life by patients, family, physicians, and other care providers. Jama, 284(19), 2476-2482.

Interested in more on this topic? Take a look at “Making Your Healthcare Wishes Known”.



I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join our visitors who are receiving our newsletter and receive our blog updates direct to your inbox.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Join the conversation