End of life conversations

Having conversations with patients about death are difficult. Sometimes I think we need to talk, but the patient or family does not seem to be ready. I suspect that sometimes the patient wants to talk, but I am not sensitive to that. Sometimes a patient clearly has a terminal illness, but the patient or the family is in denial. Sometimes different physicians approach the patient in different ways and cause confusion. I don’t have an answer for all these difficulties, but I desire to be able to have good conversations with my patients to help them deal with death in positive ways.

I was reading a review of this issue in the Atlantic that discusses two recent books by physicians about this issue, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and The Conversation by Angelo Volandes. Gawande’s book has been out for a while, but I have not yet found time to read it. Volandes’ just came out. It is tempting for me to think that by this time in my career I should know how to do things like this as well as anyone, but I think it is better for me to humble myself and admit that I still have much to learn, so I have decide to read what they have to say.

If others have read these or other thoughts on how physicians can best communicate with their patients regarding the end of life and have thoughts to share please do so.

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Jon Holmlund
Jon Holmlund
6 years ago

Steve, Dr. Gawande’s book is for sure worth it. See my comments of last Nov 27, on this blog, if you haven’t already. He touches on how to have end of life conversations but it is not the thrust of the book. I’d also be interested in your thoughts about the material at vitaltalk.org. I’ve visited that website only briefly but have not spent much time with it.