PURPOSE: Patient race is associated with decreased resource use for seriously ill hospitalized adults. We studied whether this difference in resource use can be attributed to more frequent or earlier decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining therapies. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: We studied adults with one of nine illnesses that are associated with an average 6-month mortality of 50% who were hospitalized at five geographically diverse teaching hospitals participating in the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT). We examined the presence and timing of decisions to withhold or withdraw ventilator support and dialysis, and decisions to withhold surgery. Analyses were adjusted for demographic characteristics, prognosis, severity of illness, function, and patients' preferences for life-extending care. RESULTS: The mean (± SD) age of the patients was 63 ± 16 years; 16% were African-American, 44% were women, and 53% survived for 6 months or longer. Of the 9,076 patients, 5,349 (59%) had chart documentation that ventilator support had been considered in the event the patient's condition required such a treatment to sustain life, 2,975 charts (33%) had documentation regarding major surgery, and 1,293 (14%) had documentation of discussions about dialysis. There were no significant differences in the unadjusted rates of decisions to withhold or withdraw treatment among African-Americans compared with non-African-Americans: among African-Americans, 33% had a decision made to withhold or withdraw ventilator support compared with 35% among other patients, 14% had a decision made to withhold major surgery compared with 12% among other patients, and 25% had a decision made to withhold or withdraw dialysis compared with 30% among other patients (P >0.05 for all comparisons). After adjustment for demographic characteristics, prognosis, illness severity, function, and preferences for care, there were no differences in the timing or rate of decisions to withhold or withdraw treatments among African-Americans compared with non-African-American patients. CONCLUSION: Patient race does not appear to be associated with decisions to withhold or withdraw ventilator support or dialysis, or to withhold major surgery, in seriously ill hospitalized adults. Copyright (C) 2000 Excerpta Medica Inc.
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