Deakin University
henry-howdoctors-inpress-2004.pdf (80.18 kB)

How doctors discuss major interventions with high risk patients: an observational study

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journal contribution
posted on 2005-01-01, 00:00 authored by C F Corke, P J Stow, D T Green, J W Agar, Margaret Rogers
OBJECTIVE: To investigate the difficulties doctors face in discussing treatment options with patients with acute, life threatening illness and major comorbidities. DESIGN: Observational study of doctor-patient interviews based on a standardised clinical scenario involving high risk surgery in a hypothetical patient (played by an actor) with serious comorbidities. PARTICIPANTS: 30 trainee doctors 3-5 years after graduation. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Adequacy of coverage of various aspects was scored from 3 (good) to 0 (not discussed). RESULTS: The medical situation was considered to be well described (median score 2.7 (interquartile range 2.1-3.0)), whereas the patient's functional status, values, and fears were poorly or minimally addressed (scores 0.5 (0.0-1.0), 0.5 (0.0-1.0), and 0.0 (0.0-1.5), respectively; all P < 0.001 v score for describing the medical situation). Twenty nine of the doctors indicated that they wished to include the patient's family in the discussion, but none identified a preferred surrogate decision maker. Six doctors suggested that the patient alone should speak with his family to reach a decision without the doctor being present. The doctors were reluctant to give advice, despite it being directly requested: two doctors stated that a doctor could not give advice, while 17 simply restated the medical risks, without advocating any particular course. Of the 11 who did offer advice, eight advocated intervention. CONCLUSIONS: Doctors focused on technical medical issues and placed much less emphasis on patient issues such as functional status, values, wishes, and fears. This limits doctors' ability to offer suitable advice about treatment options. Doctors need to improve their communication skills in this difficult but common clinical situation.








Article number



1 - 4


BMJ Publishing Group


London, Eng.





Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2005, British Medical Journal Publishing Group