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Doctors don't like talking about death, either

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It turns out that doctors have trouble talking about death, too.

As part of her report today, KPCC health correspondent Stephanie O’Neill spoke with Dr. Glenn Braunstein, vice president for clinical innovations at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.  He's among the leaders of what's believed to be the first effort in a major American city to set end-of-life guidelines for doctors.

In a moment of candor, he said that even he has trouble having end-of-life conversations with his patients:

"I find them to be draining; they're emotionally draining. You know, not only am I thinking about the patient before me, but I'm thinking about my parents, my in-laws, I'm thinking about other people that I know who have died."

"And when I see the family members react, you know, at times I let my own emotions show. It can be difficult, but it's also a very human type of interaction."

Dr. Daniel Stone, a Cedars-Sinai geriatric internist and co-author of the guidelines, was also honest about why doctors skirt these discussions:

"The traditional way for doctors to avoid an uncomfortable subject is to talk about that which is treatable."

"We don’t like to admit that all of our patients will pass away, ultimately, as we will. And like the public, I think doctors are inclined to be in denial about that."

Want to talk more about this? Tomorrow, O’Neill will be moderating a panel in KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum, called “Difficult Conversations: Talking about the end of life.” Get all the details here.

Want to read more about this? We’ve been talking a lot on Impatient about the end of life.

We gave you tips on how to talk with your loved ones about death. Through Facebook and the Public Insight Network, you told us about your beliefs about end-of-life medical treatment.

If you're a doctor, how do you talk about the end of life with your patients? Tell us about it in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Impatient@scpr.org. Your experience could inform future stories.

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