The extent to which patients’ preferences for end-of-life (EOL) care are honored may be distorted if preferences are measured long before death, a common approach of existing research. We examined the concordance between cancer patients’ states of life-sustaining treatments (LSTs) received in their last month and LST preference states assessed longitudinally over their last six months.
We examined states of preferred and received LSTs (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, intensive care unit care, chest compression, intubation with mechanical ventilation, intravenous nutrition, and nasogastric tube feeding) in 271 cancer patients’ last six months by a transition model with hidden Markov modeling (HMM). The extent of concordance was measured by a percentage and a kappa value.
HMM identified four LST preference states: life-sustaining preferring, comfort preferring, uncertain, and nutrition preferring. HMM identified four LST states received in patients’ last month: generally received LSTs, LSTs uniformly withheld, selectively received LSTs, and received intravenous nutrition only. LSTs received concurred poorly with patients’ preferences estimated right before death (39.5% and kappa value: 0.06 [95% CI: −0.02, 0.13]). Patients in the life-sustaining–preferring, uncertain, and nutrition-preferring states primarily received no LSTs, and patients in three of four states received intravenous nutrition against their preferences. Concordance was strongest for comfort-preferring patients.
Concordance was poor between patients’ preferred and received LST states. Interventions are needed to clarify patients’ EOL care goals and to facilitate their understanding about LST’s ineffectiveness in prolonging life at EOL. Such interventions might increase patients’ comfort preference and ensure concordance between their preferred and received EOL care.