There is a popular notion that doctors die differently than the rest of us.
They know end-of-life interventions are unlikely to work and can cause suffering, according to this assumption. So when their time comes, physicians choose not to spend their final days hooked up to machines. They stay away from the ICU. They are more likely to die at home surrounded by family and friends.
Dr. Ken Murray wrote an essay promoting this belief in 2011. It went viral. Other doctors supported his view.
But a new national study shows they were wrong. It turns out, doctors die pretty much the same the way the rest of us do.
In fact, physicians spend slightly more time in intensive care units (ICUs), more time in hospices, and just as much time in hospitals before death.
“The overall narrative that doctors die differently is false,” said the study’s senior author Dr. Stacy Fischer. She is an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“We found that doctors used more hospice care—about two days on average. When you look at the length of stay in hospital in the last months of life, there is no difference between them and the rest of population.”
The researchers examined data from 9,947 deceased physicians and a random sample of 192,006 deceased non-physicians. During the last six months of life, the proportion of physicians and non-physicians having at least one ICU stay was about the same.1
Doctors’ Medical Knowledge Doesn’t Make Them Healthier
Researchers found other interesting facts about doctors’ medical choices. While physicians do usually follow their own advice regarding smoking and diet, they still suffer the same health woes as the rest of us.
In some ways, doctors are in worse shape than the general population.
- 4% of doctors smoke. This compares to 19% of non-physicians.2
- 11% of male doctors are obese. This compares to over a third of male non-doctors.
- 42% of doctors have high blood pressure, despite their healthier choices. Only about a third of non-physicians do.
- 35% of doctors have high cholesterol or are being treated for it. Only 25% of non-doctors have high cholesterol.
- Doctors have higher suicide rates. The overall physician suicide rate cited by most studies is between 28 and 40 per 100,000. The rate in the general population is 3 per 100,000.3
- Doctors die of the same causes as non-doctors. The top 10 causes of death for doctors are essentially the same as for the rest of us.4
The bottom line? The study shows that mainstream doctors do follow their own advice. They go on the same diets, use the same drugs, and hook themselves up to the same machines as they recommend for their patients.
The problem is this: These conventional treatments do as little good for doctors as they do for everybody else.
In Good Health,
Executive Director, INH Health Watch