The burden of diagnostic investigations at the end of life for people with COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an incurable, chronic condition that leads to significant morbidity and mortality, with most patients dying in hospital. While diagnostic tests are important for actively managing patients during hospital admissions, the balance between benefit and harm should always be considered. This is particularly important when patients reach the end-of-life, when the focus is to reduce burdensome interventions. This study aimed to examine the use of diagnostic testing in a cohort of people with COPD who died in hospital.
Retrospective medical record audits were completed at two Australian hospitals (Royal Melbourne Hospital and Northeast Health Wangaratta), with all patients who died from COPD over twelve years between 1/1/2004 and 31/12/2015 included.
Three hundred and forty-three patients were included, with a median of 11 diagnostic testing episodes per patient. Undergoing higher numbers of diagnostic tests was associated with younger age, ICU admission and non-invasive ventilation use. Reduced testing was associated with recent hospital admission for COPD, domiciliary oxygen use and a prior admission with documentation limiting medical treatment. Most patients underwent diagnostic tests in the last two days of life, and 12% of patients had ongoing diagnostic tests performed after a documented decision was made to change the goal of care to provide comfort care only.
There were missed opportunities to reduce the burden of diagnostic tests and focus on comfort at the end of life. Increased physician education regarding communication and end-of-life care, including recognising active dying may address these issues.
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