Although the concept of the living will was first proposed in 1969,1 the idea caught on slowly. In fact, the first scholarly article discussing the topic didn’t appear until 16 years later.2
In contrast, an informal search of PubMed reveals that at least 38 articles on advance directives and end-of-life care have been published during the first 7 months of 2017. And a feature article in this month’s issue of JFP makes one more. Why is there such strong interest now in an issue that seldom arose when I began practice in 1978?
More complex, less personalized medicine.As medical care has become more sophisticated, there is a great deal more we can do to keep people alive as they approach the end of life, and a great many more decisions to be made.
Now, most dying hospitalized patients are cared for by hospitalists who may be meeting the patient for the first time.
Additionally, people are much less likely today to be cared for in their dying days by a family physician who knows them, their wishes, and their family well. In my early years in small-town practice, I was present when my patients were dying, and I usually knew their family members. Family meetings were easy to arrange, and we quickly came to a consensus about what to do and what not to do. If I was not available, one of my practice partners was. We cared for our patients in the office, nursing home, and hospital. Now, most dying hospitalized patients are cared for by hospitalists who may be meeting the patient for the first time.