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Prudence in end-of-life decision making: A virtue-based analysis of physician communication with patients and surrogates.

Murphy AC, Schultz KC, Gao S, Morales AM, Barnato AE, Fanning JB, Hall DE. Prudence in end-of-life decision making: A virtue-based analysis of physician communication with patients and surrogates. SSM. Qualitative research in health. 2022 Dec 1; 2.

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Despite significant improvements in end-of-life care over several decades, belated hospice referrals and hospital staffing patterns make challenging end-of-life conversations between strangers unsurprising, especially when the interaction is time-sensitive. Understanding how physicians perform under these circumstances is relevant to patient quality and medical education. This study is a secondary analysis of transcripts from a simulation that placed 88 intensivists, hospitalists, and ED physicians in the setting of responding to a nurse's call to evaluate a floor patient for impending respiratory collapse. A philosophical account of prudence guided the analytical approach and was operationalized through behavior-based and exemplar-based qualitative coding strategies. Exemplary performances and specific behaviors were then compared with preferred outcomes. Results indicate that exemplary performance correlated with a cluster of 3 behaviors that predicted the desired outcomes, but did not determine them: (1) directly affirming the likelihood that the patient will die in the near term; (2) explicitly soliciting the patient's preferences for care; and (3) asking what other family and friends should be involved. The current study implies that educational initiatives aimed at improving end-of-life conversations should expose clinicians both to technical competencies and to the virtues required to employ these competencies well.

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