Reed Kirk Rahlman

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This film combines light-hearted scenarios of poor to absurd communications with patients on issues of death and dying, with measured advice from physicians expert in such communications. In addition, a scenario of a woman physician and her patient with advanced breast cancer models a positive example for doctor-patient communication on issues of planning for death and choosing life-sustaining options.

The film opens with a madcap grim reaper dancing and singing a message from Dr. Fletcher to a patient at home: you have six months to a year to live. These same actors morph through a series of roles sprinkled through the film: a physician using medical jargon with a non-comprehending patient, an ad for a phrase book to "speak like a patient," another doctor-patient scene with the physician now graphically describing cardiopulmonary resuscitation using wild gestures, and a waiter advising a patient/patron on item selection from the Terminal Cafée menu (no vegetables!).

The experts discussing death and dying are: Michael Clement, MD; Lisa Capaldini, MD; Doriane Miller, MD; Bernard Lo, MD and Kate Christensen, MD. They offer sage advice on communication, avoidance of medical terminology (even words like 'diagnosis' and 'procedure' can be misunderstood), pain management, informing patients of anticipated poor outcome with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, asking patients what is important to them, goals of treatment, who should make medical decisions, and the setting of such discussions. Cultural sensitivity is briefly discussed, with an emphasis on respecting the patient's individuality rather than assuming a fit within cultural expectations.

The exemplary scenario demonstrates positive qualities and key points: both physician and patient are seated and dressed; the physician asks the patient if she wants another person present for the ensuing discussion and also inquires as to the quality of discussions with the spouse, whom the patient designates as the one to potentially make medical decisions; the specific fears and desires of the patient are sought; and the physician recaps what the patient says and asks her if the summary is correct. In addition, resuscitation is explained in detail. The visit concludes with the doctor encouraging future discussions and allowing decision changes.

The film ends with the finale to the opening scene. The patient slams the door on the grim reaper, who, beset by dogs, returns to Dr. Fletcher and advises the doctor to talk to his patients himself.

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