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Ethics in Cardiopulmonary Medicine |

Patients’ Perspectives on Physician Skill in End-of-Life Care*: Differences Between Patients With COPD, Cancer, and AIDS

J. Randall Curtis, MD, MPH, FCCP; Marjorie D. Wenrich, MPH; Jan D. Carline, PhD; Sarah E. Shannon, PhD, RN; Donna M. Ambrozy, PhD; Paul G. Ramsey, MD
Author and Funding Information

*From the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine (Dr. Curtis), Department of Medicine; School of Medicine (Ms. Wenrich and Dr. Ramsey); Department of Medical Education (Drs. Carline and Ambrozy); and School of Nursing (Dr. Shannon), University of Washington, Seattle, WA.

Correspondence to: J. Randall Curtis, MD, MPH, FCCP, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Harborview Medical Center, Box 359762, 325 Ninth Ave, Seattle, WA 98104-2499



Chest. 2002;122(1):356-362. doi:10.1378/chest.122.1.356
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Objectives: Patients’ views of physician skill in providing end-of-life care may vary across different diseases, and understanding these differences will help physicians improve the quality of care they provide for patients at the end of life. The objective of this study was to examine the perspectives of patients with COPD, cancer, or AIDS regarding important aspects of physician skill in providing end-of-life care.

Design: Qualitative study using focus groups and content analysis based on grounded theory.

Setting: Outpatients from multiple medical settings in Seattle, WA.

Patients: Eleven focus groups of 79 patients with three diseases: COPD (n = 24), AIDS (n = 36), or cancer (n = 19).

Results: We identified, from the perspectives of patients, the important physician skills for high-quality end-of-life care. Remarkable similarities were found in the perspectives of patients with COPD, AIDS, and cancer, including the importance of emotional support, communication, and accessibility and continuity. However, each disease group identified a unique theme that was qualitatively more important to that group. For patients with COPD, the domain concerning physicians’ ability to provide patient education stood out as qualitatively and quantitatively more important. Patients with COPD desired patient education in five content areas: diagnosis and disease process, treatment, prognosis, what dying might be like, and advance care planning. For patients with AIDS, the unique theme was pain control; for patients with cancer, the unique theme was maintaining hope despite a terminal diagnosis.

Conclusions: Patients with COPD, AIDS, and cancer demonstrated many similarities in their perspectives on important areas of physician skill in providing end-of-life care, but patients with each disease identified a specific area of end-of-life care that was uniquely important to them. Physicians and educators should target patients with COPD for efforts to improve patient education about their disease and about end-of-life care, especially in the areas defined above. Physicians caring for patients with advanced AIDS should discuss pain control at the end of life, and physicians caring for patients with cancer should be aware of many patients’ desires to maintain hope. Physician understanding of these differences will provide insights that allow improvement in the quality of care.


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