Physician competence in end-of-life care requires skill in communication, decision making, and building relationships, yet these skills were not taught to the majority of physicians during their training. This article presents a 7-step approach for physicians for structuring communication regarding care at the end of life. Physicians should prepare for discussions by confirming medical facts and establishing an appropriate environment; establish what the patient (and family) knows by using open-ended questions; determine how information is to be handled at the beginning of the patient-physician relationship; deliver the information in a sensitive but straightforward manner; respond to emotions of the patients, parents, and families; establish goals for care and treatment priorities when possible; and establish an overall plan. These 7 steps can be used in situations such as breaking bad news, setting treatment goals, advance care planning, withholding or withdrawing therapy, making decisions in sudden life-threatening illness, resolving conflict around medical futility, responding to a request for physician-assisted suicide, and guiding patients and families through the last hours of living and early stages after death. Effective application as part of core end-of-life care competencies is likely to improve patients' and families' experiences of care. It may also enhance physicians' professional fulfillment from satisfactory relationships with their patients and patients' families.
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