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Specialist palliative medicine physicians and nurses accuracy at predicting imminent death (within 72 hours): a short report

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Nicola White, Fiona Reid, Victoria Vickerstaff, Priscilla Harries, Patrick Stone

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-212
Number of pages4
JournalBMJ Supportive and Palliative Care
Issue number2
Published1 Jun 2020

King's Authors


Objectives Research suggests that clinicians are not very accurate at prognosticating in palliative care. The ' horizon effect' suggests that accuracy ought to be better when the survival of patients is shorter. The aim of this study was to determine the accuracy of specialist palliative care clinicians at identifying which patients are likely to die within 72 hours. Design In a secondary data analysis of a prospective observational study, specialist palliative care doctors and nurses (in a hospice and a hospital palliative care team) provided survival predictions (yes/no/uncertain) about which patients would die within 72 hours. Results Survival predictions were obtained for 49 patients. A prediction from a nurse was obtained for 37/49 patients. A prediction from a doctor was obtained for 46/49 patients. In total, 23 (47%)/49 patients actually died within 72 hours of assessment. Nurses accurately predicted the outcome in 27 (73%)/37 cases. Doctors accurately predicted the outcome in 30 (65%)/46 cases. When comparing predictions given on the same patients (27 [55%]/49), nurses were slightly better at recognising imminent death than doctors (positive predictive value (the proportion of patients who died when the clinician predicted death)=79% vs 60%, respectively). The difference in c-statistics (nurses 0.82 vs doctors 0.63) was not significant (p=0.13). Conclusion Even when patients are in the terminal phase and close to death, clinicians are not very good at predicting how much longer they will survive. Further research is warranted to improve prognostication in this population.

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