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By Paula Span

Dr. Alexander K. Smith is a brave man.

It has taken physicians a very long time to accept the need to level with patients and their families when they have terminal illnesses and death is near — and we know that many times those kinds of honest, exploratory conversations still don’t take place.

Now Dr. Smith, a palliative care specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, who also practices at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and two co-authors are urging another change, one they acknowledge would “radically alter” the way healthcare professionals communicate with their very old patients.

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