Researchers create interactive tool to predict likelihood of death

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have identified 16 prognostic scales that can be used to estimate the life expectancy of older adults with a fair degree of accuracy. They also have created an interactive tool for the same purpose, which is posted at www.ePrognosis.org, according to the New York Times.

While the tool is available to the public, it is designed mainly for physicians who are trying to estimate how much time their patients have left before recommending specific treatments. This kind of estimate can help prevent overtreatment and complications in elderly people who will likely die before they can benefit from therapy. It can also help doctors determine whether patients are robust enough to withstand particular procedures or other treatments.

The UCSF researchers published their research about the prognostic scales in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). They reviewed thousands of studies to identify the 16 indices that predict risk of mortality between six months and five years in people aged 60 or older. While they found that the assessment scales had a "moderate" to "good" ability to predict the probability of death, they cautioned that more studies would be needed to "independently test their accuracy in heterogeneous populations and their ability to improve clinical outcomes."

Only the most useful and accurate scales are included in the interactive tool at ePrognosis.org. When a user plugs variables such as age, health conditions, cognitive status and functional ability into the tool, he or she gets a percentage that shows the likelihood of death within a particular time frame.

Among other things, the Times article notes, this application can help terminally ill patients and their families evaluate whether it's time for the patients to seek hospice care. Medicare requires that a patient have a life expectancy of less than six months for hospice care to be covered. But many patients wait until their last days or weeks before going into a hospice.

To learn more:
- read the JAMA study
- see the New York Times article

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