Laureate Professor Robert Sanson-Fisher writes: “It makes good sense to plan for impending birth. It increases the chance of good health while reducing fear and stress. Planning helps the family to develop a shared sense of responsibilities and values. There is a growing school of thought that suggests we could start accepting that chronic illness and end of life occur and plan for them in the way we currently plan for the start of life.”
If providers are able to help realise patients’ wishes for end of life care, then patients are more likely to experience higher quality of life, and lower physical and psychological distress. Obviously, this is only possible if people make their wishes known.
Prof Sanson-Fisher also highlights how as much as 10% of Australia’s healthcare resources are spent on procedures that patients at the end of their lives may not want – a problem mirrored in many other countries where developments in technology and medicine are directed towards keeping people alive for as long as possible.
The University of Newcastle, where Prof Sanson-Fisher is director of the Centre for Health Behaviour, has been awarded funding to investigate patients’ actual preferences in relation to end of life care. It will be the first study to provide clinically relevant data on the degree to which providers and surrogate decision makers accurately reflect cancer patients’ end of life decisions over time.
He concludes: “As more and more Australians look forward to a longer life and, potentially, an extended end of life, research into patient choice and planning is critical to helping the community make important decisions about who decides, and at what cost.”