How to talk to your doctor about end-of-life care

January 23, 2019

Starting the conversation regarding end-of-life care is hard, even for our society’s esteemed doctors and medical professionals.

As the leading nonprofit hospice and healthcare agency in the state, Delaware Hospice strives to provide end-of-life education and support to our community.

It is natural for people to avoid talking about the end of life. Thus, many of us avoid speaking to our doctors about what type of end-of-life care we would want. A lack of communication with doctors causes confusion about desired medical treatments and choices that need to be determined. Surveys show almost 75 percent of physicians did not know their patients had an advance healthcare directive.

Only 12 percent of patients with advance healthcare directives had received input from their doctors. However, individuals who talked with their physicians or families about their preferences for end-of-life care:

  • Had less fear and anxiety
  • Felt they had more ability to influence and direct their medical care
  • Believed their physicians had a better understanding of their wishes
  • Indicated a greater understanding and comfort level than they had before the discussion.

Do not wait for your doctor to ask about your wishes. Chances are he or she is waiting for you to start the conversation.

Here are some things to consider when talking to your doctor:

  • Let your doctors know you want to complete an advance healthcare directive
  • Ask them to explain any treatment/ procedure options you find confusing
  • Talk about pain control and symptom management options, and let them know your preference between relief of pain or alertness
  • Share your thoughts on what is important to you; if you choose quality over quantity of life, let them know
  • Make sure your doctor is willing to follow your directives. The law does not force physicians to follow directives if they disagree with your wishes for moral or ethical reasons
  • Give your doctor a copy of your completed directives and the contact information of your appointed healthcare agent.

To learn more about your healthcare options, go to or call 302-478-5707.

Jennifer Saienni is a public relations specialist for Delaware Hospice.

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