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Terminally ill patients, caregivers feel lost connection with doctors

March 16, 2009|Shari Roan

Once a patient becomes terminally ill, relationships between patients, their caregivers and their primary doctors can change. Now a study offers an unusual glimpse of what patients and their doctors are thinking as the end of life approaches -- and it shows that patients sometimes feel abandoned.

The study, published March 9 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, involved 55 patients with incurable cancer or advanced lung disease who were expected to live a year or less. Along with the patients, 31 doctors, 36 family caregivers and 24 nurses involved in the patients' care were interviewed. The interviews were conducted at the start of the study, four to six months later and again one year later.

The authors, from the University of Washington, Seattle, revealed that patients feel they lose access to their doctors and their medical expertise once they're deemed incurable. Doctors said they were bothered by "losing track" of what is happening to their former patients after active treatment has ceased, but they didn't appear to recognize the desire for patients to continue to see them even when there was nothing left for the doctor to do.

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shari.roan@latimes.com

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