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The do-not-resuscitate order: associations with advance directives, physician specialty and documentation of discussion 15 years after the Patient Self-Determination Act


Background: Since the passage of the Patient Self-Determination Act, numerous policy mandates and institutional measures have been implemented. It is unknown to what extent those measures have affected end-of-life care, particularly with regard to the do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.

Methods: Retrospective cohort study to assess associations of the frequency and timing of DNR orders with advance directive status, patient demographics, physician’s specialty and extent of documentation of discussion on end-of-life care.

Results: DNR orders were more frequent for patients on a medical service than on a surgical service (77.34% vs 64.20%, p = 0.02) and were made earlier in the hospital stay for medicine than for surgical patients (adjusted mean ratio of time from DNR orders to death versus total length of stay 0.30 for internists vs 0.21 for surgeons, p = 0.04). 22.18% of all patients had some form of an advance directive in their chart, yet this variable had no impact on the frequency or timing of DNR ordering. Documentation of DNR discussion was significantly associated with the frequency of DNR orders and the time from DNR to death (2.1 days with no or minimal discussion vs 2.8 days with extensive discussion, p<0.01).

Conclusions: The physician’s specialty continues to have a significant impact on the frequency and timing of DNR orders, while advance directive status still has no measurable impact. Additionally, documentation of end-of-life discussions is significantly associated with varying DNR ordering rates and timing.

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