BACKGROUND: Approximately 460 000 people die annually in England. Three-quarters of these deaths are expected. Health Education England is prioritising upskilling of clinical staff in response to reports of poor care quality in the last days of life in acute hospitals, where almost half of all deaths occur. This study explores the impact of an end-of-life care (EoLC) educational intervention, Milestones, in acute hospital trusts in Greater London.
METHODS: This is a mixed methods study. Learners completed a questionnaire pre- (n=452), immediately post- (n=488) and 3 to 8 months post- (n=37) intervention. The questionnaire measured learner confidence in EoLC covering the National Health Service adopted 'Priorities for the Care of the Dying Person'. Paired t-tests were used to determine statistically significant difference in learner confidence pre- and post-intervention. A convenience sample of learners (n=7) and educators (n=5) were recruited to qualitative semi-structured interviews that sought to understand if, how and why Milestones worked. Data were analysed using a thematic approach.
RESULTS: A statistically significant increase in learner confidence across all five priorities of care' was sustained up to 8 months (p<0.001). Interviewees wanted to discuss wider challenges in EoLC related to the organisations and cultural contexts in which they worked. Concerns included balancing hope when decision-making, learning as a multidisciplinary team and emotional impact.
CONCLUSION: The findings suggest that Milestones is a flexible, beneficial resource for teaching EoLC that facilitates enhanced learner engagement. Understanding generated about wider concerns can inform future educational material development, organisational process and research study design.
OBJECTIVE: The concept of a good death is a motivating factor for end of life care policy; this article examines what English end-of-life care (EOLC) policy defines as a good death.
METHODS: Critical discourse analysis of policy documents and policy-promoting materials published between 2008 and 2016.
RESULTS: Policy explicitly defines a good death as having the following attributes: being treated as an individual, with dignity and respect; being without pain and other symptoms; being in familiar surroundings and being in the company of close family and/or friends. Critical discourse analysis of 54 documents found that rather than just being an outcome or event, descriptions of what makes a death good also include many processes. A more extended definition includes: the person receives holistic EOLC; the dying person is treated with dignity and respect; the death is not sudden and unexpected; people are prepared and have ideally done some advance care planning; people are aware that someone is dying and openly discuss this; on knowing the dying person's preferences, all involved are to work towards achieving these; the place of death is important; the person's family are involved and the needs of the bereaved are considered.
CONCLUSION: This analysis indicates the complex nature of the current discourses around good death in EOLC policy, which often focuses on care rather than death. Policy should focus on outlining what quality end-of-life care looks like, rather than assume 'good death' is a suitable outcome statement.
Background: Hospital-based nurses can offer a unique perspective about factors that can contribute to a good end-of-life experience, including the location in which end-of-life care is delivered.
Objectives: To examine in a sample of hospital-based nurses, the location in which they personally would most and least prefer to be cared for at the end of life, and the reasons for these preferences.
Design: Questionnaire-based, cross-sectional study.
Setting and participants: 170 registered and enrolled nurses employed in acute care wards of three metropolitan hospitals in Australia between April 2016 and February 2017.
Results: Nurses would most prefer to be cared for at home (53%) or in a hospice/palliative care unit (41%) at the end-of-life. Being in a familiar environment and feeling like dying is a more normal process were the main reasons reported for choosing these settings. The main reasons given by nurses for choosing a hospice/palliative care unit were that being cared for at home may place a burden on family/friends and hinder appropriate symptom management. Nurses would least prefer being cared for in an emergency department (49%) due to a perceived lack of privacy and adverse impact on the family; and residential aged care facilities (25%) due to perceived suboptimal symptom management and reduced likelihood of wishes being respected.
Conclusion: Nurses in this study value familiarity of environment and normalising the dying process. The majority do not wish to burden their family and friends at the end of their lives. Important next steps in providing services that meet the needs of people facing the end of their lives include understanding how nurses' personal views may influence decision-making conversations with patients and families about location of care at the end-of-life, as well as determining the capacity of available services to meet patient and family needs.
A lay patient navigator model involving a culturally tailored intervention to improve palliative care outcomes for Hispanics with advanced cancer was tested across 3 urban and 5 rural cancer centers in Colorado. Five home visits were delivered over 3 months to 112 patients assigned to the randomized controlled trial's intervention arm. Grounded in core Hispanic values, visits addressed palliative care domains (advance care planning, pain/symptom management, and hospice utilization). To describe the content of patient navigator visits with patients/family caregivers, research team members analyzed 4 patient navigators' field notes comprising 499 visits to 112 patients. Based on previous work, codes were established a priori to identify ways patient navigators help patients/family caregivers. Key words and comments from field notes were classified into themes using ATLAS.ti and additional codes established. Nine common themes and exemplars describing the lay patient navigator role are described: activation/empowerment, advocacy, awareness, access, building rapport, providing support, exploring barriers, symptom screening, and the patient experience. Patient navigators used advocacy, activation, education, and motivational interviewing to address patient/family concerns and reduce barriers to quality palliative care in urban and rural settings. Adapting and implementing this model across cultures has potential to improve palliative care access to underserved populations.
Palliative care was initially developed for patients with advanced cancer. The concept has evolved and now encompasses any life-threatening chronic disease. Studies carried out to compare end-of-life symptoms have shown that although symptoms such as pain and dyspnea are as prevalent in patients with lung disease as in patients with cancer, the former receive less palliative treatment than do the latter. There is a need to refute the idea that palliative care should be adopted only when curative treatment is no longer possible. Palliative care should be provided in conjunction with curative treatment at the time of diagnosis, by means of a joint decision-making process; that is, the patient and the physician should work together to plan the therapy, seeking to improve quality of life while reducing physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering.
OBJECTIVES: End-of-life hospitalisations may not be associated with improved quality of life. Studies indicate differences in end-of-life care for cancer and non-cancer patients; however, data on hospital utilisation are sparse. This study aimed to compare end-of-life hospitalisation and place of death among patients dying from cancer, heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
DESIGN: A nationwide register-based cohort study.
SETTING: Data on all in-hospital admissions obtained from nationwide Danish medical registries.
PARTICIPANTS: All decedents dying from cancer, heart failure or COPD disease in Denmark between 2006 and 2015.
OUTCOME MEASURES: Data on all in-hospital admissions within 6 months and 30 days before death as well as place of death. Comparisons were made according to cause of death while adjusting for age, sex, comorbidity, partner status and residential region.
RESULTS: Among 154 235 decedents, the median total bed days in hospital within 6 months before death was 19 days for cancer patients, 10 days for patients with heart failure and 11 days for patients with COPD. Within 30 days before death, this was 9 days for cancer patients, and 6 days for patients with heart failure and COPD. Compared with cancer patients, the adjusted relative bed day use was 0.65 (95% CI, 0.63 to 0.68) for heart failure patients and 0.68 (95% CI, 0.66 to 0.69) for patients with COPD within 6 months before death. Correspondingly, this was 0.65 (95% CI, 0.63 to 0.68) and 0.70 (95% CI, 0.68 to 0.71) within 30 days before death.Patients had almost the same risk of dying in hospital independently of death cause (46.2% to 56.0%).
CONCLUSION: Patients with cancer, heart failure and COPD all spent considerable part of their end of life in hospital. Hospital use was highest among cancer patients; however, absolute differences were small.
BACKGROUND: Early palliative care consultation ("PCC") to discuss goals-of-care benefits seriously ill patients. Risk factor profiles associated with the timing of conversations in hospitals, where late conversations most likely occur, are needed.
OBJECTIVE: To identify risk factor patient profiles associated with PCC timing before death.
METHODS: Secondary analysis of an observational study was conducted at an urban, academic medical center. Patients aged 18 years and older admitted to the medical center, who had PCC, and died July 1, 2014 to October 31, 2016, were included. Patients admitted for childbirth or rehabilitationand patients whose date of death was unknown were excluded. Classification and Regression Tree modeling was employed using demographic and clinical variables.
RESULTS: Of 1141 patients, 54% had PCC "close to death" (0-14 days before death); 26% had PCC 15 to 60 days before death; 21% had PCC >60 days before death (median 13 days before death). Variables associated with receiving PCC close to death included being Hispanic or "Other" race/ethnicity intensive care patients with extreme illness severity (85%), with age <46 or >75 increasing this probability (98%). Intensive care patients with extreme illness severity were also likely to receive PCC close to death (64%) as were 50% of intensive care patients with less than extreme illness severity.
CONCLUSIONS: A majority of patients received PCC close to death. A complex set of variable interactions were associated with PCC timing. A systematic process for engaging patients with PCC earlier in the care continuum, and in intensive care regardless of illness severity, is needed.
BACKGROUND: During the terminal withdrawal of life-sustaining measures for intensive care patients, the removal of respiratory support remains an ambiguous practice. Globally, perceptions and experiences of best practice vary due to the limited evidence in this area.
AIM: To identify, appraise and synthesise the latest evidence around terminal withdrawal of mechanical ventilation in adult intensive care units specific to perceptions, experiences and practices.
DESIGN: Mixed methods systematic review and narrative synthesis. A review protocol was registered on PROSPERO (CRD42018086495).
DATA SOURCES: Four electronic databases were systematically searched (Medline, Embase, CENTRAL and CINAHL). Obtained articles published between January 2008 and January 2020 were screened for eligibility. All included papers were appraised using relevant appraisal tools.
RESULTS: Twenty-five papers were included in the review. Findings from the included papers were synthesised into four themes: 'clinicians' perceptions and practices'; 'time to death and predictors'; 'analgesia and sedation practices'; 'physiological and psychological impact'.
CONCLUSIONS: Perceptions, experiences and practices of terminal withdrawal of mechanical ventilation vary significantly across the globe. Current knowledge highlights that the time to death after withdrawal of mechanical ventilation is very short. Predictors for shorter duration could be considered by clinicians and guide the choice of pharmacological interventions to address distressing symptoms that patients may experience. Clinicians ought to prepare patients, families and relatives for the withdrawal process and the expected progression and provide them with immediate and long-term support following withdrawal. Further research is needed to improve current evidence and better inform practice guidelines.
OBJECTIVE: Communication and patient-centred care are important determinants for timely initiation of palliative care. Therefore, we aimed to understand and explain the behaviour "starting a conversation about palliative care with a professional carer" from the perspective of people with incurable cancer.
METHODS: A qualitative study using semi-structured face-to-face interviews with 25 people with incurable cancer: 13 not (yet) receiving palliative care and 12 receiving palliative care; 4 started the conversation themselves. Determinants related to the defined behaviour were matched with concepts in existing behavioural theories.
RESULTS: Both positive and negative stances towards starting a conversation about palliative care with a professional carer were found. Influencing behavioural factors were identified, such as knowledge (e.g. about palliative care), attitude (e.g. association of palliative care with quality of life) and social influence (e.g. relationship with the professional carer). We modelled the determinants into a behavioural model.
CONCLUSION: The behavioural model developed helps to explain why people with incurable cancer do or do not start a conversation about palliative care with their professional carer. By targeting the modifiable determinants of the model, promising interventions can be developed to help patients taken the initiative in communication about palliative care with a professional carer.
Background: Implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death for high-risk patients with heart failure (HF), but shocks from these devices can also cause pain and anxiety at the end of life. Although professional society recommendations encourage proactive discussions about ICD deactivation, clinicians lack training in conducting these conversations, and they occur infrequently.
Methods: As part of a six-center randomized controlled trial, we evaluated the educational component of a multicomponent intervention shown to increase conversations about ICD deactivation by clinicians who care for a subset of patients with advanced HF. This consisted of a 90-minute training workshop designed to improve the quality and frequency of conversations about ICD management. To characterize its utility as an isolated intervention, we compared HF clinicians' pre- and postworkshop scores (on a 5-point Likert scale) assessing self-reported confidence and skills in specific practices of advance care planning, ICD deactivation discussions, and empathic communication.
Results: Forty intervention-group HF clinicians completed both pre- and postworkshop surveys. Preworkshop scores showed high baseline levels of confidence (4.36, standard deviation [SD = 0.70) and skill (4.08, SD = 0.72), whereas comparisons of pre- and postworkshop scores showed nonsignificant decreases in confidence (-1.16, p = 0.252) and skill (-0.20, p = 0.843) after the training session.
Conclusions: Our findings showed no significant changes in self-assessment ratings immediately after the educational intervention. However, our data did demonstrate that HF clinicians had high baseline self-perceptions of their skills in advance care planning conversations and appear to be well-primed for further professional development to improve communication in the setting of advanced HF.
BACKGROUND: In recent years the use of time to death (TTD) variables in the modeling of individual health expenditures has been of interest to health economics researchers. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of age and TTD on hospital inpatient expenditure (HIE).
METHODS: We used a claims database from Iran Health Insurance Organization of Tehran city that includes considerable proportion of Tehran residents and contains information on insured individuals' HIE. We included HIE of all insured decedents (30 to 90 years old) who died during March 2013 and March 2014 (n=1018). No sampling was required. According to the decedents' date of death, we extracted their last 24 months HIE. The period of time March 30, 2011 until March 30, 2014 (3 years) was used to guarantee a full 24 months of observations for decedents. A two-part econometric model was employed to investigate the effect of age, TTD, and some demographic variables on probability and conditional amount of individuals' hospital expenditure. Stata software (version 16.0) was used for data processing and analysis.
RESULTS: Our results demonstrated that the month-based TTDs especially near months before death of decedents (TTD1 to TTD10) significantly affected both probability and conditional amount of HIE. One month before death incurred more HIE than the rest of the months. A further interesting finding is that after including TTD, age variable as a conditional driver of HIE loses its direct effect on decedents' HIE, but age TTD interaction effect on HIE is still positive and statistically significant.
CONCLUSION: The results confirm that TTD as a proxy of mortality indicator has a considerable effect on decedents' HIE. The age variable has not directly affected decedents' HIE but indirectly and through its interaction with TTD has a statistically significant effect on HIE. In addition to age, policy-makers should consider TTD to make better predictions of future HIE.
Background: There is a growing emphasis on the importance of availability of specialist palliative care for people living with dementia. However, for people imminently dying with dementia, we still have little knowledge about their palliative care needs and utilization of different specialist services.
Objectives: To (i) assess palliative care needs and other clinical and social characteristics of people imminently dying with dementia on their last admission in the context of community and inpatient palliative care services before death; (ii) compare care needs between patients requiring community-based and inpatient services; (iii) determine how and whether such care needs affect utilization of different palliative care services.
Design: Observational study using data from the Australian Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration.
Settings: Specialist palliative care services across Australia registered in the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaboration.
Participants: A total of 3361 people who required specialist palliative care principally for dementia (including Alzheimer's disease and other dementias), and whose death occurred between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2018.
Methods: Five validated clinical instruments were used to collect point-of-care outcomes on each individual's function (Resource Utilisation Groups - Activities of Daily Living & Australia-modified Karnofsky Performance Status), symptom distress (Symptoms Assessment Scale & Palliative Care Problem Severity Score) and other clinical characteristics (Palliative Care Phases). We fitted multivariate logistic regression models to examine the association between these clinical outcomes and utilization of different specialist palliative care services.
Results: The majority of people imminently dying with dementia had absent or mild levels of symptom distress but experienced high levels of functional decline and needed substantial assistance with basic tasks of daily living in their last days of life. Large disparities in symptoms distress and functional decline between inpatient and community groups were not observed although differences in assessment scores were often statistically significant. Poor functional outcomes (odds ratio = 1.77, 95% confidence interval: 1.24–2.52) and “non-stable” palliative care phases (odds ratio =24.51, 95% confidence interval: 12.03–49.96) were positively associated with use of inpatient versus community palliative care, whereas there was no clear association between the majority of symptoms and use of different care services.
Conclusions: The majority of people imminently dying with dementia could potentially benefit from greater access to supportive services in the community. Development of a dementia-specific palliative care pathway is needed to promote needs-based palliative care delivery models.
Context: Nonpharmacological approaches are effective strategies for difficult to palliate breathlessness. Although acupuncture is effective for dyspnea in early-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), little is known about its effects in patients with advanced (non)malignant diseases.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to identify and examine the evidence of acupuncture on breathlessness in advanced malignant and nonmalignant diseases.
Methods: Systematic literature review of randomized controlled trials of acupuncture and acupressure searched in five databases. Included were adult participants with at least 25% having advanced diseases such as cancer or COPD with severe breathlessness. Primary outcome was severity of dyspnea on Visual Analogue Scale or Borg Scale. Secondary outcomes included quality of life, function, and acceptability. Data were pooled using a random effects model of standardized mean differences.
Results: Twelve studies with 597 patients (347 COPD, 190 advanced cancer) were included. For breathlessness severity, significant differences were obtained in a meta-analysis (10 studies with 480 patients; standardized mean difference (SMD) = -1.77 [95% CI -3.05, -0.49; P = 0.007; I2 = 90%]) and in a subgroup analysis of using sham acupuncture control groups and a treatment duration of at least three weeks (6 studies with 302 patients; SMD = -2.53 [95% CI -4.07, -0.99; P = 0.001; I2 = 91%]). Exercise tolerance (6-minute walk test) improved significantly in the acupuncture group (6 studies with 287 patients; SMD = 0.93 [95% CI 0.27, 1.59; P = 0.006; I2 = 85%]). In four of six studies, quality of life improved in the acupuncture group.
Conclusion: Acupuncture improved breathlessness severity in patients with advanced diseases. The methodological heterogeneity, low power, and potential morphine-sparing effects of acupuncture as add-on should be further addressed in future trials.
Context: Uremic pruritus (UP) affects up to half of all patients with kidney disease and has been independently associated with poor patient outcomes. UP is a challenging symptom for clinicians to manage as there are no validated guidelines for its treatment.
Objectives: The study aimed to develop and validate an algorithm and patient information toolkit for the treatment of UP in patients with kidney disease.
Methods: The study involved a literature search and development of an initial draft algorithm, followed by content and face validation of this algorithm. Validation entailed three rounds of interviews with six nephrology clinicians per round. Participants assessed the relevance of each component of the algorithm and then rated a series of statements on a scale of 1-5 to assess face validity of the algorithm. After each round, the content validity index (CVI) of each algorithm component was calculated, and the algorithm was revised by the study team in response to findings. This process was followed by a second study that developed and validated a patient information pamphlet and video.
Results: Algorithm validation participants were affiliated with three institutions and included seven physicians, four registered nurses, three nurse practitioners, three pharmacists, and a dietician. The average CVI of the algorithm components across all three rounds was 0.89, with 0.80 commonly cited as the lower acceptable limit for content validation. More than 78% of participants rated each face validity statement as “Agree” or “Strongly Agree”. For the patient information tools, five clinicians and 15 patients were included in validation. The average CVI was 1.00 for both tools, and the average face validity was 92%.
Conclusion: A treatment algorithm and patient information toolkit for managing UP in patients with kidney disease were developed and validated through expert review. Further research will be conducted on implementation of the treatment algorithm and evaluating patient-reported outcomes.
Context: Patients with advanced cancer face a life-limiting condition that brings a high symptom burden that often includes pain, fatigue, and psychological distress. Psychosocial interventions have promise for managing symptoms but need additional tailoring for these patients' specific needs. Patients with advanced cancer in the community also face persistent barriers—availability of interventions in community clinics as well as financial and illness-related factors—to accessing psychosocial interventions.
Objectives: The aim of the present study was to assess the feasibility and acceptability of telephone implementation of Engage, a novel brief combined Coping Skills Training and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy protocol, for reducing symptoms and increasing quality of life in community patients with advanced cancer.
Methods: Adult patients with advanced cancer receiving care in the community received Engage, four 60-minute manualized telephone sessions delivered by a trained psychotherapist and completed pretreatment and post-treatment assessments.
Results: Engage was feasible, achieving 100% accrual (N = 24) of a heterogeneous sample of patients with advanced cancer, with good retention (88% completed). Acceptability was demonstrated via satisfaction (mean 29 of 32; SD 2), engagement (95% attendance), and use of skills. Secondary analyses pointed to reductions in pain interference, fatigue, psychological distress, and improvements in psychological acceptance and engagement in value-guided activity after treatment.
Conclusion: Engage, our brief novel combined Coping Skills and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy intervention, demonstrated initial feasibility and acceptability when delivered over the telephone and increased access for community clinic patients with advanced cancer. Future research will assess the comparative efficacy of Engage in larger randomized trials.
All medical care providers are legally and ethically bound to respect their patients' wishes. However, as patients lose decision-making capacity and approach end of life, their families or surrogates, who are confronted with grief, fear, self-doubt, and/or uncertainty, may ask physicians to provide treatment that contradicts the patients' previously stated wishes. Our work discusses the legal and ethical issues surrounding such requests and provides guidance for clinicians to ethically and compassionately respond—without compromising their professional and moral obligations to their patients.
Context: Although it is well known that patients with advanced pancreatic cancer (PC) experience significant symptom burden, few strategies for effective symptom intervention are available for them.
Objectives: To investigate the efficacy of minocycline, an anti-inflammatory agent, for symptom reduction in patients with advanced PC.
Methods: We conducted Phase II, randomized, and placebo-controlled trial to obtain preliminary estimates of the effects on symptom reduction with 100 mg of minocycline or placebo given twice a day. Eligible patients had diagnosed advanced PC and were scheduled for standard chemotherapy. Patient-reported symptoms were measured weekly during the eight-week trial using the MD Anderson Symptom Inventory (MDASI) module in patients with gastrointestinal cancer. The primary outcome measure was the area under the curve values of the five most severe symptoms in the two arms.
Results: Of the 44 patients recruited, 31 (71%) were evaluable for the primary efficacy analysis, with 18 received minocycline and 13 placebo. Fatigue, pain, disturbed sleep, lack of appetite, and drowsiness were the most severe symptoms reported by both groups. No significant differences in area under the curve values over time between the study arms were found for the composite MDASI score or single-item scores of the five most severe MDASI items. No treatment-related deaths were reported, and no Grade 3–4 toxicities were observed.
Conclusion: Minocycline is safe for use in patients receiving treatment for PC. There is no observed symptom reduction with minocycline on the major symptom burden associated with advanced PC compared with placebo. Attrition because of rapid disease progression impacted the study significantly.
Context: Clinicians often worry that patients' recognition of the terminal nature of their illness may impair psychological well-being.
Objectives: To determine if such recognition was associated with decrements to psychological well-being that persisted over time.
Methods: About 87 patients with advanced cancer, with an oncologist-expected life expectancy of less than six months, were assessed before and after an oncology visit to discuss cancer restaging scan results and again at follow-up (median time between assessments, approximately six weeks). Prognostic understanding (PU) was assessed at previsit and postvisit, and a change score was computed. Psychological well-being was assessed at pre, post, and follow-up, and two change scores were computed (post minus pre; follow-up minus post).
Results: Changes toward more accurate PU was associated with a corresponding initial decline in psychological well-being (r = -0.33; P < 0.01) but thereafter was associated with subsequent improvements (r = 0.40; P < 0.001). This pattern remained controlling for potential confounds. Patients showed different patterns of psychological well-being change (F = 3.07, P = 0.05; F = 6.54, P < 0.01): among patients with improved PU accuracy, well-being initially decreased but subsequently recovered; by contrast, among patients with stable PU accuracy, well-being remained relatively unchanged, and among patients with decrements in PU accuracy, well-being initially improved but subsequently declined.
Conclusion: Improved PU may be associated with initial decrements in psychological well-being, followed by patients rebounding to baseline levels. Concerns about lasting psychological harm may not need to be a deterrent to having prognostic discussions with patients.
Context: Cancer is a life-changing diagnosis accompanied by significant emotional distress, especially for children with advanced disease. However, the content and processes of discussing emotion in advanced pediatric cancer remain unknown.
Objectives: To describe the initiation, response, and content of emotional communication in advanced pediatric cancer.
Methods: We audiorecorded 35 outpatient consultations between oncologists and families of children whose cancer recently progressed. We coded conversations based on Verona Coding Definitions of Emotional Sequences.
Results: About 91% of conversations contained emotional cues, and 40% contained explicit emotional concerns. Parents and clinicians equally initiated cues (parents: 48%, 183 of 385; clinicians: 49%) and concerns (parents: 51%; clinicians: 49%). Children initiated 3% of cues and no explicit concerns. Emotional content was most commonly related to physical aspects of cancer and/or treatment (28% of cues and/or concerns, present in 80% of conversations) and prognosis (27% of cues and/or concerns, present in 60% of conversations). Clinicians mostly responded to emotional cues and concerns implicitly, without specifically naming the emotion (85%). Back channeling (using minimal prompts or words that encourage further disclosure, e.g., uh-huh) was the most common implicit response that provided space for emotional disclosure (32% of all responses). Information advice was the most common implicit response that reduced space for further emotional disclosure (28%).
Conclusion: Emotional communication in advanced pediatric cancer appears to be a subtle process where parents offer hints and clinicians respond with non-emotion-laden statements. Also, children were seldom engaged in emotional conversations. Clinicians should aim to create an environment that allows families to express emotional distress if and/or when ready.
Context: Clinicians deciding whether to refer a patient or family to specialty palliative care report facing high levels of uncertainty. Most research on medical uncertainty has focused on prognostic uncertainty. As part of a pediatric palliative referral intervention for oncology teams we explored how uncertainty might influence palliative care referrals.
Objectives: To describe distinct meanings of the term “uncertainty” that emerged during the qualitative evaluation of the development and implementation of an intervention to help oncologists overcome barriers to palliative care referrals.
Methods: We conducted a phenomenological qualitative analysis of “uncertainty” as experienced and described by interdisciplinary pediatric oncology team members in discussions, group activities and semistructured interviews regarding the introduction of palliative care.
Results: We found that clinicians caring for patients with advanced cancer confront seven broad categories of uncertainty: prognostic, informational, individual, communication, relational, collegial, and inter-institutional. Each of these kinds of uncertainty can contribute to delays in referring patients to palliative care.
Conclusion: Various types of uncertainty arise in the care of pediatric patients with advanced cancer. To manage these forms of uncertainty, providers need to develop strategies and techniques to handle professionally challenging situations, communicate bad news, manage difficult interactions with families and colleagues, and collaborate with other organizations.