A Survey of Hospice and Palliative Care Physicians Regarding Palliative Sedation Practices

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Abstract

Context:

Patients nearing the end of life may experience symptoms that are refractory to standard therapeutic options. Physicians may consider palliative sedation to relieve intolerable suffering. There is limited clinical literature regarding preferred medications for palliative sedation.

Objectives:

To determine the preferred medications physicians use when implementing palliative sedation.

Methods:

An Internet-based, cross-sectional survey of hospice and palliative care physicians in the United States.

Results:

A link to the survey was e-mailed to 3130 physician members of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, of which 381 physicians completed the survey. Physicians were not required to answer all questions. Nearly all (n = 335, 99%) respondents indicated that palliative sedation may be used (acceptable by 73% [n = 248] for refractory symptoms and acceptable by 26% [n = 87] only for imminently dying patients). Seventy-nine percent (n = 252) believed that opioids should not be used to induce palliative sedation but should be continued to provide pain control. Midazolam was the most commonly selected first-line choice for palliative sedation (n = 155, 42%). The most commonly reported second-line agents for the induction of palliative sedation were lorazepam, midazolam (for those who did not select midazolam as first-line agent), and phenobarbital with a reported preference of 20% (n = 49), 19% (n = 46), and 17% (n = 40), respectively.

Conclusion:

Of the physicians surveyed, 99% (n = 335) felt that palliative sedation is a reasonable treatment modality. Midazolam was considered a drug of choice for inducing and maintaining sedation, and opioids were continued for pain control.

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