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Patient Preferences for Discussing Life Expectancy: a Systematic Review

Abstract

Background

Discussing life expectancy helps inform decisions related to preventive medication, screening, and personal care planning. Our aim was to systematically review the literature on patient preferences for discussing life expectancy and to identify predictors for these preferences.

Methods

We searched PubMed, Cochrane Library, Embase, MEDLINE, PsycInfo, and gray literature from inception until 17 February 2021. Two authors screened titles/abstracts and full texts, and extracted data and one author assessed quality. The outcome of interest was the proportion of patients willing to discuss life expectancy. We reported descriptive statistics, performed a narrative synthesis, and explored sub-groups of patients according to patient characteristics.

Results

A total of 41 studies with an accumulated population of 27,570 participants were included, comprising quantitative survey/questionnaire studies (n=27) and qualitative interview studies (n=14). Willingness to discuss life expectancy ranged from 19 to 100% (median 61%, interquartile range (IQR) 50–73) across studies, with the majority (77%) reporting more than half of subjects willing to discuss. There was considerable heterogeneity in willingness to discuss life expectancy, even between studies from patients with similar ages, diseases, and cultural profiles. The highest variability in willingness to discuss was found among patients with cancer (range 19–100%, median 61%, IQR 51–81) and patients aged 50–64 years (range 19–97%, median 61%, IQR 45–87). This made it impossible to determine predictors for willingness to discuss life expectancy.

Discussion

Most patients are willing to discuss life expectancy; however, a substantial proportion is not. Heterogeneity and variability in preferences make it challenging to identify clear predictors of willingness to discuss. Variability in preferences may to some extent be influenced by age, disease, and cultural differences. These findings highlight the individual and complex nature in which patients approach this topic and stress the importance of clinicians considering eliciting patient’s individual preferences when initiating discussions about life expectancy.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge Anton Pottegård, University of Southern Denmark and Odense University Hospital, for helping with the conceptualization of the study and preparation of the manuscript. Further, we would like to acknowledge Lucas Morin, Clinical Investigation Unit, University Hospital of Besançon and High-Dimensional Biostatistics for Drug Safety and Genomics, Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Paris, for critical comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Emma Bjørk MScPharm.

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Bjørk, E., Thompson, W., Ryg, J. et al. Patient Preferences for Discussing Life Expectancy: a Systematic Review. J GEN INTERN MED 36, 3136–3147 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-021-06973-5

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KEY WORDS

  • life expectancy
  • patient preferences
  • communication