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Practitioner Bias as an Explanation for Low Rates of Palliative Care Among Patients with Advanced Dementia

Abstract

Patients with advanced dementia are less likely than those with other terminal illnesses to receive palliative care. Due to the nature and course of dementia, there may be a failure to recognize the terminal stage of the disease. A possible and under-investigated explanation for this healthcare disparity is the healthcare practitioner who plays a primary role in end-of-life decision-making. Two potential areas that might impact provider decision-making are cognitive biases and moral considerations. In this analysis, we demonstrate how the cognitive biases and moral considerations of practitioners related to clinical decision-making are inherent in clinical practice and may impact on providers’ accuracy related to diagnostic and treatment related decision-making associated with patients with advanced dementia. Anchoring, default, availability, representativeness and framing biases are cognitive biases based on the "Two System Model" that relate to decision-making in end-of-life care. In patients with advanced dementia, those biases may result in a tendency to adhere to traditional mandatory care, involving an aggressive approach to care, which values saving lives at all costs, without taking into account the possible suffering and long-term consequences. Aspects such as moral sensitivity and moral courage play an important role in ethical decision-making related to advanced dementia. Investigations of clinical decision-making that include the cognitive biases and ethical considerations of practitioners might advance the comprehensive understanding of the clinical decision-making process related to care of patients with advanced dementia and promote the quality of care given to this population.

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Erel, M., Marcus, EL. & Dekeyser-Ganz, F. Practitioner Bias as an Explanation for Low Rates of Palliative Care Among Patients with Advanced Dementia. Health Care Anal 30, 57–72 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10728-021-00429-x

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Keywords

  • Advanced dementia
  • End-of-life
  • Cognitive bias
  • Moral judgment
  • Moral courage
  • Moral sensitivity