prostatecancerA new study that surveyed physicians and nurses in hospitals within cancer centers in Germany suggests that many patients there do not experience a dignified death. Published early online in Cancer, a peer- reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study indicates the need for cancer centers to invest more in palliative care services, adequate rooms for dying patients, staff training in end-of-life care, and advance-care-planning standards.

Previous research has shown that hospitals are often ill-prepared to provide care for dying patients. To investigate whether the circumstances for dying on cancer center wards allow for a dignified death, Karin Jors, MA, of the University Medical Center Freiburg, and her colleagues surveyed physicians and nurses in 16 hospitals belonging to 10 cancer centers in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The survey addressed topics regarding end-of-life care including structural conditions such as rooms and staff, education/training, working environment, family/caregivers, medical treatment, communication with patients, and dignified death.

“In our aging society, it is predicted that the number of hospital deaths will continue to rise in the coming years, and many of these deaths will be attributable to cancer. For this reason, it is particularly important that cancer centers strive to create a comfortable, dignified experience for dying patients and their families,” said Jors. “Above all, this requires that staff members are provided with the adequate resources to care for these patients.”

Among 1131 survey respondents, 57% believed that patients could die with dignity on their ward. Half of the survey staff members indicated that they rarely have enough time to care for dying patients, and 55% found the rooms available for dying patients unsatisfactory. Only 19% of respondents felt that they had been well-prepared to care for dying patients (and only 6% of physicians felt so). Palliative care staff reported much better conditions for dying patients than staff from other wards, with 95% of palliative care staff indicating that patients die with dignity on their wards. Generally, physicians perceived the circumstances for dying patients much more positively than nurses, especially regarding communication and life-prolonging measures. While 72% of physicians reported that patients can usually die a dignified death on their ward, only 52% of nurses shared this opinion.