Timing of do-not-resuscitate orders for hospitalized older adults who require a surrogate decision-maker

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OBJECTIVES: To examine the frequency of surrogate decisions for in-hospital do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders and the timing of DNR order entry for surrogate decisions. DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study. SETTING: Large, urban, public hospital. PARTICIPANTS: Hospitalized adults aged 65 and older over a 3-year period (1/1/2004-12/31/2006) with a DNR order during their hospital stay. MEASUREMENTS: Electronic chart review provided data on frequency of surrogate decisions, patient demographic and clinical characteristics, and timing of DNR orders. RESULTS: Of 668 patients, the ordering physician indicated that the DNR decision was made with the patient in 191 cases (28.9%), the surrogate in 389 (58.2%), and both in 88 (13.2%). Patients who required a surrogate were more likely to be in the intensive care unit (62.2% vs 39.8%, P<.001) but did not differ according to demographic characteristics. By hospital Day 3, 77.6% of patient decisions, 61.9% of surrogate decisions, and 58.0% of shared decisions had been made. In multivariable models, the number of days from admission to DNR order was higher for surrogate (odds ratio (OR)=1.97, P<.001) and shared decisions (OR=1.48, P=.009) than for patient decisions. The adjusted hazard ratio for hospital death was higher for patients with surrogate than patient decisions (2.61, 95% confidence interval (CI)=1.56-4.36). Patients whose DNR orders were written on Day 6 or later were twice as likely to die in the hospital (OR=2.20, 95% CI=1.45-3.36) than patients with earlier DNR orders. CONCLUSION: For patients who have a DNR order entered during their hospital stay, order entry occurs later when a surrogate is involved. Surrogate decision-making may take longer because of the greater ethical, emotional, or communication complexity of making decisions with surrogates than with patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1326-1331
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2011


  • decision-making
  • end of life
  • proxy
  • resuscitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology

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