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Oregon's Low In-Hospital Death Rates: What Determines Where People Die and Satisfaction with Decisions on Place of Death?

Susan W. Tolle, MD; Anne G. Rosenfeld, PhD, RN; Virginia P. Tilden, DNSc, RN; and Yon Park, BA
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From Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, Oregon.


Ann Intern Med. 1999;130(8):681-685. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-130-8-199904200-00015
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Where Americans die is much more influenced by what part of the country they live in than by what their preferences are for location of death. Although most Americans report a preference for death at home, a majority still die in acute care hospitals. We describe the experiences of patients who died in Oregon (the state that currently has the lowest in-hospital death rate in the United States—31%) and the views of their families. We examine the factors influencing respect for dying patients' preferred location of death.

Data from Oregon studies confirm that decisions to avoid hospital admission are far more common than discharge of the actively dying. Do-not-resuscitate orders were reported for 91% of nursing home residents in one study and living wills were reported for 67% of a random sample of adult Oregon decedents in a second study. In the second study, decisions not to start treatment were far more common than decisions to stop treatment (79% compared with 21%). Only 2.4% of families reported that “too little” treatment was given.

Throughout the United States, use and availability of beds in acute care hospitals have been confirmed to be the principal determining factors in location of death. Within that constraint, however, the availability of other resources and services both facilitates the process of arranging for patients to die outside the hospital and improves satisfaction with the quality of terminal care.

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