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MPR News

Improving the way health care workers talk about death

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stethoscope
Stethoscope, a tool used to listen to a heart beat.
Amanda Snyder File

End of life care prompts a lot of difficult decisions; figuring out how to start a conversation about death shouldn't be one of them. 

A national survey found that about 46 percent of physicians feel uncertain about what to say. 

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an article urging doctors and hospitals to focus on providing high-quality end of life care that is in line with what the patient's desires. 

The article said

"Patients with advanced illness frequently receive care that is discordant from their personal preferences. Most people indicate that they would prefer to die at home, yet more than a fifth of patients still die in the hospital. In a study of family members of patients who died from cancer, only half of respondents reported that their loved one received excellent end-of-life care."

MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with two physicians about the barriers doctors face when talking with patients about death and what research, training and innovation is being done to knock those barriers down. 

Miller spoke with: 

• Dr. Danielle Ofri, a physician and the author of several books including, "What Patients Say; What Doctors Hear"

• Dr. Renee Crichlow, a physician and assistant professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical School

 Use the audio player above to hear the full discussion.