Author + information
- Nathan Goldstein, MD⁎ (, )
- Elizabeth Bradley, PhD,
- Jessica Zeidman, BA,
- Davendra Mehta, MD, PhD and
- R. Sean Morrison, MD
- ↵⁎Department of Geriatrics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Box 1070, One Gustave Levy Place, New York, New York 10029
- implantable cardioverter-defibrillator
- palliative care
- decision making
- health services research
To the Editor:Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) reduce sudden cardiac death. However, ≈25% of patients with ICDs are shocked in the last month of life (1), and these shocks may cause frightening and painful deaths. Little is known about how physicians' attitudes influence their decisions to discuss ICD deactivation with patients.
We created a simple random sample of the American Medical Association Masterfile by choosing 100 physicians from each of 4 strata: electrophysiologists, cardiologists, geriatricians, and internists. Eligible clinicians had to be in active practice and had to have cared for at least 1 patient with an ICD. We mailed letters to all physicians introducing the study, and then followed up by telephone to administer the survey. Physicians who could not be contacted by telephone were mailed surveys, and a series of incentives was used to encourage participation. All surveys were anonymous. This project was exempt from review by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Institutional Review Board.
We based the survey on our previous qualitative work (2,3). The instrument included Likert scales—from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree)—to determine physicians' attitudes relating to ICD conversations (Table 1).Data were analyzed as both continuous and dichotomous variables. As the results of these analyses were similar, the Likert scales are reported as strongly agree or agree versus all others. For between-group comparisons, the chi-square test was used; the Fisher exact test was used for smaller cell sizes. The p values reflect comparisons across the 4 groups. There was no difference in response patterns between phone and written surveys. Analysis of variance was used to evaluate the differences in age of respondents across the 4 groups. Significance levels for individual tests were not adjusted as the survey was based on our previous data and the sample size was small, thus making it unlikely that any observed association would be due to chance alone (4). All calculations were performed using SAS version 9.0 (SAS Institute, Cary, North Carolina).
Of the 400 physicians selected for the survey, 11 were deemed ineligible (7 were retired and 4 had never cared for a patient with an ICD) and 52 could not be located. Of the remaining 337 eligible physicians, 147 completed surveys, yielding a response rate among physicians who could be located of 44% (147 of 337). Electrophysiologists had a higher response rate (58%) compared with cardiologists (36%), internists (37%), and geriatricians (41%; p = 0.013). Geriatricians tended to be older than cardiologists, electrophysiologists, or internists (mean age 54.1 years vs. 48.3, 49.0, and 48.1 years, respectively; p < 0.001). The likelihood of being male was higher among electrophysiologists (92%) and cardiologists (93%) than among geriatricians (62%) and internists (66%; p < 0.001).
Clinicians' views about care for seriously ill patients with ICDs varied across specialty. Electrophysiologists were less likely than cardiologists, internists, or geriatricians to agree/strongly agree that they could accurately predict the possibility of a patient being shocked by the ICD near the end of life (12% vs. 41%, 46%, and 30%, respectively; p = 0.005). With respect to patient understanding, 94% of electrophysiologists and 93% of cardiologists who responded strongly agreed/agreed with the statement that their patients understood why they had an ICD, whereas only 74% of internists and 77% of geriatricians agreed with this statement (p = 0.03). Sixty-three percent of electrophysiologists, 45% of cardiologists, 33% of internists, and 55% of geriatricians believed patients knew they could deactivate their ICD (p = 0.11).
One potential barrier to ICD deactivation discussions may relate to physician's beliefs that they can predict which patients will receive a shock. In reality, it can be difficult to predict the terminal cardiac rhythm. Physicians who believe they can predict who will be shocked may fail to discuss deactivation with patients for whom they mistakenly believe ICD firing is unlikely.
Clinicians may be unaware of patients' understanding about their devices. Most clinicians in every group believed their patients understood the indication for their device, which might limit their belief that more discussion is needed. Data from patient focus groups, however, reveal that patients do not know the indication for their device and that their understanding of its purpose varies widely and is often inaccurate (2).
A final barrier may be that many physicians (in our study, 1 of 3 of internists and 2 of 3 of electrophysiologists) believed that patients already knew they could deactivate the shocking function of their ICD. Prior data suggest that patients with ICDs often do not know that this is possible (2). Clinicians who believe that patients know the options for device management at the end of life may be less likely to have deactivation conversations.
This study has limitations. The rate of surveys completed was <50%. Nevertheless, our enrollment rate is consistent with other clinician surveys reporting on patients with advanced illness (5). Electrophysiologists were more likely to respond as compared with others, perhaps because they take more “ownership” of the issue of deactivation because it involves a device they implant.
This study identifies clinician perceptions that may reflect barriers to communication about deactivation of ICDs in patients with advanced illness. The focus of this work is on barriers to conversations, because we believe that these conversations should occur as part of conversations about advance care planning; whether the device is deactivated is the decision of the patient and family. Because patients with ICDs are cared for by physicians of a variety of specialties with differing views, future interventions to improve conversations about device deactivation should be targeted to both specialists and generalists, with the appropriate timing of these conversations determined by subsequent empirical studies.
Please note: Portions of these data were presented at the 2008 National Meeting of the American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. The John A. Hartford Foundation, the National Institute on Aging, the American Federation for Aging Research, the National Palliative Care Research Center, and the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation provided support in part for this work. This research is supported by Dr. Nathan Goldstein's Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (1K23AG025933). Dr. Bradley is supported by the Patrick and Catherine Weldon Donaghue Medical Research Foundation Investigator Award (West Hartford, Connecticut). Ms. Zeidman was supported by the American Federation for Aging Research Summer Medical Student Research Program (New York, New York). Dr. Morrison is supported by the National Palliative Care Research Center (New York, New York) and a Midcareer Investigator Award in Patient-Oriented Research (1K24AG22345-01) from the National Institute on Aging. Dr. Mehta is a member of the Speakers' Bureau for Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and St. Jude.
- American College of Cardiology Foundation
- Angus D.C.,
- Kelley M.A.,
- Schmitz R.J.,
- White A.,
- Popovich J. Jr.