Information disclosure to terminally ill patients and their relatives: self-reported practice of Belgian clinical specialists and general practitioners

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Abstract

Objective of this study is to examine physicians' practices regarding information disclosure to terminally ill patients and to their relatives, without informing the patient. A questionnaire had been sent to a random sample of 3014 Belgian physicians from different specialties frequently involved in end-of-life care. Responses were analysed using weighted percentages, Chi-square, Mann-Whitney U-tests and a multivariate ordinal logistic regression. Response rate was 58%. Both clinical specialists and general practitioners (GPs) discuss most topics related to terminal illness with their patients except end-of-life hastening options, spirituality, life expectancy and options to withhold/withdraw life-sustaining treatment. The topics which most physicians always discuss with relatives without informing the patient are the aim of treatment, palliative care and incurability. There is a significant difference between clinical specialists and GPs. Clinical specialists and GPs discuss most end-of-life topics with the patient but omit important issues such as end-of-life hastening options and life-expectancy.

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