Doctors who ask patients nearing the end of life about their goals and priorities can help shape decisions about the individual’s end-of-life care and help the person and their families come to terms with their questions and fears, according to Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who appeared on PBS’s Frontline program on February 10, 2015.

The documentary, based on his new book, Being Mortal, explores relationships and conversations between physicians and dying patients. As part of the program, Gawande discusses how he and his family dealt with terminal cancer in his late physician-father, which in part inspired the book.

Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and executive director of Ariadne Labs, recommended doctors ask patients sooner, rather than later, important questions such as “What are your fears? What are your priorities? What are you willing to sacrifice and not willing to sacrifice?” When the questions were asked of patients featured in the program, the individual responses ranged from wanting to die at home instead of a hospital to foregoing aggressive treatment to have a better quality of life for their remaining days.

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