There have been several reports in recent weeks stating that doctors “routinely get it wrong” when predicting how long terminally ill patients have left to live.
Reports have revealed that there is a wide variation in errors consisting of an overestimate of 93 days to an underestimate of 86 days.
A review has been carried out by a team at the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Department at the University College London and it has been agreed that further work should be carried out to see if all doctors can be further trained in making better predictions. The review has looked into all doctors being further trained as it does not appear that the older, more experienced doctors are any better at predicting when somebody will die.
Natalie Churney-Fox, Solicitor at The Specter Partnership Solicitors states that “Families are dependent on doctors in delivering the prognosis of someone’s life span. Further, the care provided and treatment for those terminally ill patients are often dependant on these accurate prognosis periods. Predicting an accurate prognosis allows patients and their families to better equip themselves and give them a chance to make choices about their care.”
At present, there is no one way of identifying how doctors can better predict survival rates. Despite this however, research is now being done to investigate how they can identify why some doctors are better at predicting survival and subsequently determine if this skill can be communicated to others.
This uncertainty for a dying patient and their families can be extremely distressing and can make a patient’s last living days harder to deal with. In this current society we have learnt to become open and honest in discussing death and it has been discussed that nurses see a positive impact of being as open as possible, even if a definitive answer cannot be given.
As such, it is pleasing to see that further research will be conducted to investigate whether doctors can be trained in predicting someone’s prognosis, not only for the patient but also for their loved ones who care for them.