02 December 2016

The Best Qualitative Paper for 2016 has been awarded to Professors Lindy Willmott and Ben White, directors of the Australian Centre for Health Law Research (ACHLR), and colleagues by the Health Services Research Association Australia and New Zealand (HSRAANZ) for an article about why doctors provide futile treatments at the end of life. 

The article ‘Reasons doctors provide futile treatment at the end of life: a qualitative study', was published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (2016, volume 42, pages 496-503).

The paper explores why some doctors provide treatment which they believe will not benefit patients or will be burdensome to them at the end of their life. It analyses empirical research findings obtained from interviews with 96 doctors from a range of specialities on the issue of futile treatment. 

In an Australian first, the research revealed that doctors provide futile treatment due to a wide range of inter-related factors, namely the characteristics of treating doctors (including their orientation towards curative treatment); attributes of the patient and family (including their requests for further treatment and prognostic uncertainty); and hospital factors (including a high degree of specialisation).

The study was conducted by Professors Willmott and White with colleagues from the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland, and the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital as part of a three year Australian Research Council Linkage Project entitled Futile Treatment at the End of Life: legal, policy, sociological and economic perspectives.

‘We, and our co-authors Cindy Gallois, Malcolm Parker, Nicholas Graves, Sarah Winch, Leonie Callaway, Nicole Shepherd and Eliana Close are delighted to receive this prestigious award. It is very gratifying that our research on this significant issue has been recognised by the HSRAANZ’ said Professor Willmott.

‘We hope that the results provide evidence to support systems level reform to deliver better treatment to patients as they approach the end of their life.’

The HSRAANZ is Australia’s peak health services research body. The award was presented at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Canberra on 1 December 2016 as part of the HSRAANZ’s event Health Services Research – where to from here? A review of the state and potential of HSR in Australia and New Zealand.

Further information about challenges relating to futile treatment, and the research project, is explored in an article by Professors Willmott and White on the Journal of Medical Ethics blog

Australian Centre for Health Law Research

Professors Ben White and Lindy Willmott


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