Ineffectiveness of the support intervention: Review of explanations

Joanne Lynn, Kier Olsen Devries, Hal R. Arkes, Marguerite Stevens, Felicia Cohn, Pat Murphy, Kenneth E. Covinsky, Mary Beth Hamel, Neal V. Dawson, Joel Tsevat

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: The aim of the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments - SUPPORT - was to improve the care of seriously ill patients by improving decision-making for patients with life-threatening illnesses. Several theories have been proposed to explain why the SUPPORT intervention was unsuccessful at improving outcomes. OBJECTIVE: To review and discuss explanations offered by others regarding why the SUPPORT intervention failed to have a discernible impact on its prespecified outcome measures. DESIGN: A descriptive review of published articles and book chapters, with synthesis of data-based and conceptual insights. METHODS: The Medline, Bioethicsline, and Ethx databases were searched for citations to SUPPORT articles between 1994 and the end of 1998. This search was supplemented by other published materials that had come to the authors' attention. RESULTS: The critiques and explanations regarding the reasons the SUPPORT intervention did not improve outcomes were catalogued and organized into 11 major categories, the first 10 of which are explored in the present study: (1) the inception cohort was biased against an effect of the intervention, (2) the intervention was not implemented as designed, (3) the intervention failed because nurses were too readily ignored, (4) the intervention was too polite, (5) the intervention presented information ineffectively, (6) the intervention did not focus on primary care physicians, (7) the intervention falsely dichotomized do not resuscitate (DNR) decisions, (8) the intervention needed more years on site or an earlier start with each patient, (9) the intervention required more appropriate outcome measures, (10) the intervention was irrelevant because usual care is not seriously flawed, (11) the conceptual model behind SUPPORT was fundamentally flawed in aiming to improve individual, patient-level decision-making as the way to improve seriously ill, hospitalized patients' experiences. CONCLUSIONS: Although some of the critiques were found to raise important concerns, we conclude in each case that the explanation offered is inadequate to explain the failure of the intervention. We urge further reflection on the fundamental assumptions that informed the design of that intervention and refer the reader to a more comprehensive treatment of that issue in the companion paper in this volume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S206-S213
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - May 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • decision-making
  • end-of-life care
  • nurse role
  • physician-patient communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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