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Survival preferences, ascertained from time-trade-off utilities, have not been studied in heart failure patients who designate a ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR) status. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine the association of heart failure patients' resuscitation preferences with survival preferences and mortality in the ESCAPE trial.We analysed the association of resuscitation orders at 1 month with time-trade-off utilities and 6-month mortality. There were 26 and 349 patients with a DNR order and Full Code order, respectively. DNR patients were older, had more coronary artery disease, hypertension, renal impairment, and poorer exercise capacity than Full Code patients. DNR patients also experienced longer hospitalization and higher 6-month mortality. In multivariate analysis, DNR preference was associated with 10-fold higher odds of willingness to trade survival time (lower time-trade-off utility) in favour of improved quality of life [odds ratio 10.33, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.65–64.80]. DNR preference was the best predictor of mortality (χ2 26.12, P < 0.0001, hazard ratio 6.88, 95% CI 3.28–14.41), despite adjustment for known predictors including brain natriuretic peptide.Heart failure patients' requests to forgo resuscitation may signify more than simply ‘what-if’ directives for emergency care. DNR decisions may reflect preferences for intervention to enhance quality rather than prolong survival, which is particularly important as these patients have high early mortality.