The prevalence of medical error related to end-of-life communication in Canadian hospitals: results of a multicentre observational study
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BACKGROUND: In the hospital setting, inadequate engagement between healthcare professionals and seriously ill patients and their families regarding end-of-life decisions is common. This problem may lead to medical orders for life-sustaining treatments that are inconsistent with patient preferences. The prevalence of this patient safety problem has not been previously described. METHODS: Using data from a multi-institutional audit, we quantified the mismatch between patients' and family members' expressed preferences for care and orders for life-sustaining treatments. We recruited seriously ill, elderly medical patients and/or their family members to participate in this audit. We considered it a medical error if a patient preferred not to be resuscitated and there were orders to undergo resuscitation (overtreatment), or if a patient preferred resuscitation (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, CPR) and there were orders not to be resuscitated (undertreatment). RESULTS: From 16 hospitals in Canada, 808 patients and 631 family members were included in this study. When comparing expressed preferences and documented orders for use of CPR, 37% of patients experienced a medical error. Very few patients (8, 2%) expressed a preference for CPR and had CPR withheld in their documented medical orders (Undertreatment). Of patients who preferred not to have CPR, 174 (35%) had orders to receive it (Overtreatment). There was considerable variability in overtreatment rates across sites (range: 14-82%). Patients who were frail were less likely to be overtreated; patients who did not have a participating family member were more likely to be overtreated. CONCLUSIONS: Medical errors related to the use of life-sustaining treatments are very common in internal medicine wards. Many patients are at risk of receiving inappropriate end-of-life care.