The physician as patient in palliative care

McMichael, L.C. et al. (2016) Palliative Medicine. 30(9) pp. 889-892

doctor-1639328_960_720Background: Dying physicians may present unique challenges to palliative care teams. Studies of dying physicians are scarce, but those that exist suggest a potential absence of a coordinating clinician, prolongation of curative treatments, resistance to palliative care input and barriers to discussing psychosocial needs.

Aim: The aim was to describe and examine the care provided to physician-patients referred to an Australian palliative care service, and to identify issues faced by the physician-patient and by the treating team.

Design and participants: A retrospective case-note audit of the case notes of medical practitioners referred for palliative care and dying between January 2007 and April 2013 was conducted.

Results: There was evidence of medically qualified friends or family members initiating referrals and directing treatment decisions. There was some evidence of increased consultant-led decision-making and bypassing of usual referral pathways and systems for providing after-hours advice and calling consultants directly. There also appeared to be some reluctance by junior doctors to make decisions, because of the patient’s desire for consultant-level advice only.

Conclusion: This study adds to the growing body of literature that identifies the potential difficulties associated with caring for medical practitioners. By understanding some of the complexity of this particular doctor–patient relationship, clinicians can approach the management of physician-patients facing the end of their lives with a more sound understanding of their particular care needs.

Read the abstract here


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