Suffering in deference: a focus group study of older cardiac patients' preferences for treatment and perceptions of risk

Kennelly, C and Bowling, A (2001) Suffering in deference: a focus group study of older cardiac patients' preferences for treatment and perceptions of risk. Quality and Safety in Health Care, 10(Suppl. 1), i23 - i28. ISSN (print) 1475-3898


Objectives-To explore older people's experiences of health care in relation to their medical condition (ischaemic heart disease), their understanding of health risks, treatment preferences, and the impact of different treatments on their quality of life.Design-Qualitative study based on five focus groups.Setting-Five local heart support groups across London.Participants-38 patients aged 56 and over who were members of local heart support groups, diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease. Main outcome measure-Analysis of patients' narratives to identify key themes and issues using the framework method of qualitative data analysis.Results-Cardiac patients would prefer to follow the cardiologist's recommendation for treatment, based on their medical expertise. If offered a choice, many said they would prefer to take medication, at least initially, as they would rather not undergo surgery. However, they accepted that, depending on their medical condition, they might not have a choice. Other factors that participants said affected their choice of treatments included their state of health, treatment outcomes, families' feelings, their age, and the previous number of operations they had undergone. They found it difficult to discuss risk in terms of numbers; most felt that a 3% risk of death from surgery was low. Instead, they discussed risk in terms of likelihood of treatment restoring quality of life. Patients expressed the fear that medication was not a cure and that surgical revascularisation is a traumatic experience that does not necessarily last forever. Participants felt that they needed further information on the impact of surgery and medication to make a more informed choice. Other barriers they felt they had faced in being treated were problems in accessing cardiologists and age discrimination.Conclusion-It was apparent from these focus groups that few patients were involved in medical decision making about their treatment. Most preferred the doctor to make the decision and did want to be involved. Despite their experiences as cardiac patients, they required much more information about treatment options for their condition before being able to make informed choices, where appropriate. Improved access to specialist care (cardiologists) and equal treatment by age are also required before patients' preferences can be elicited in practice.

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