Video Affects End-of-Life Decisions

Terminal cancer patients viewing simulated CPR less likely to choose the procedure than those who just heard description

Cancer patients with a prognosis of less than one year to live said they found educational videos helpful as they made choices about CPR in the hospital. Advance Care Planning Decisions Image.

Patients with terminal cancer who viewed a three-minute video demonstrating cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) were less likely to indicate a preference for receiving CPR in the event of an in-hospital cardiac arrest than patients who only listened to an oral description of the procedure. The study, which appears online today in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, is a follow-up to a smaller 2009 study and includes a more diverse group of patients with many types of cancer.

“It really is incumbent on us, as physicians, to help our patients understand their options at the end of life,” said Angelo Volandes, HMS assistant professor of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and corresponding author of the current report. “Our results clearly show that educational videos can help supplement—not supplant—the patient/doctor relationship by reinforcing—not replacing—the conversations that must take place between doctors and patients.”

The earlier study enrolled only patients with brain cancer, which represents less than 1 percent of cancer diagnoses, who were treated at the Mass General Cancer Center. The current investigation, called the Video Images of Disease for Ethical Outcomes (VIDEO) study, was extended to patients at Boston Medical Center, Queens Hospital Cancer Center in New York, and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville. All of the patients in the 2009 study were white, while one-third of those in the current study were African-American and 10 percent were Hispanic. The previous study presented patients with information about a range of end-of-life decisions, but the current study focused on the choice to receive CPR, a decision that can have a major impact on the course of a patient’s care, Volandes said.

At each of the four centers, cancer patients who were aware that their prognosis was less than one year were invited to participate in the study immediately after a scheduled clinic visit. Those agreeing to participate first completed a questionnaire including details of their personal background and their current preferences regarding CPR. They then were randomized into two groups, completed assessments of their current knowledge about CPR and general health information, and listened to identical oral narratives describing the goals, processes and risks of CPR—including the likelihood of successful resuscitation in patients with advanced cancer.

One group then watched the video, which included images of a simulated CPR procedure conducted on a mannequin and of a real patient on mechanical ventilation receiving intravenous medication. (The video can be viewed here.) Both groups then completed a second questionnaire that again ascertained their knowledge of CPR and asked the same questions regarding CPR preferences. Six to eight weeks later a member of the research team, who did not know to which group patients had been assigned, attempted to contact them by phone to administer a follow-up questionnaire.

A total of 150 patients were enrolled at the four centers; of these, 70 had viewed the video, and 80 had not. Before beginning the study, about half of those in both groups indicated that they would choose to receive CPR. That preference dropped slightly—from 54 to 48 percent—among those who only listened to the oral description of CPR, but the preference for CPR dropped by more than half—from 49 percent to 20 percent—among those who also viewed the video.

Successful follow-up calls were made to 67 participants, 30 who had viewed the video and 37 who had not. More than half of those in each group had died before the calls were placed. Among patients who were contacted, 17 percent of those who saw the video said they would choose to receive CPR, as did 41 percent of the controls. Among those who viewed the video, 90 percent indicated that it was helpful, 93 percent that they were comfortable viewing it and 98 percent said they would probably or definitely recommend viewing the video to other patients with advanced cancer.

“We now have even more evidence that videos are more informative and, in combination with verbal discussion, give patients more knowledge with which to make these important decisions,” said Volandes. “When patients have more knowledge, they tend not to want more aggressive interventions, and this effect persists over time. Not only were patients overwhelmingly comfortable viewing the videos, but those patients who had lower levels of health literacy were particularly likely to indicate that the video was helpful to them. We need to provide all patients with the tools to understand their treatment options, especially for end-of-life care.”

Volandes is a co-founder of Advanced Care Planning Decisions, a nonprofit foundation developing and researching video decision support tools and making them available to the health care community. Currently 35 health systems are using the organization’s videos as part of their standard of care for patients with advanced diseases. This study is one of a series being conducted by the VIDEO Consortium, which includes more than 100 physicians, nurses, patients and video artists from 10 academic medical centers across the country. The consortium is studying the use of videos for decision support in patients with heart failure, end-stage kidney disease and other leading causes of death in the U.S.

The study was supported by grant K08HS018780 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and grant 0177-1 from the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation.

This story was adapted from a Massachusetts General Hospital news release.